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Sherlock Holmes now fair game for other authors’ adaptions

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Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 1:09 am

More than 200 people have impersonated him. More than three writers have attempted to murder him. It’s no mystery why this 127-year-old inspector caused conflict when he was declared alive and free.

A Chicago district judge settled the case on copyright by ruling that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has officially moved into the U.S. public domain, according to the December ruling.

Jeff Harrison, a professor in the UF Levin College of Law who specializes in copyright, said the decision means that anyone can use the characters.

“You couldn’t claim that they’re your own, but you don’t have to get permission from the (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Literary) Estate,” which owned the rights to the stories, he said.

It happens to every copyrighted character eventually, he said, using Superman and Mickey Mouse as examples.

Attorney and writer Leslie Klinger won the lawsuit against the Estate for public ownership. He said he believes that fans should be able to interpret the stories in their own ways.

“Everybody loves the stories. Everybody has their own picture of what Holmes looks like,” he said. “Any friend of Sherlock Holmes is a friend of mine.”

Klinger said he fears the Estate might file an appeal to keep the characters under copyright.

“The Estate did serve the function of being a traffic cop ... to weed out what they perceived as the crap,” Klinger said, “but that’s their censorship.”

At UF’s SwampCon over the weekend, fans had their own opinions.

UF alumna Amber Hollingsworth has led panel discussions about the BBC show “Sherlock” and other characters at conventions for about 10 years. She said she knows of diehard fans of the original works — known collectively as the “canon” — who would not approve of newer stories.

“There are people who are in that canon purist arena ... that are not fans of anything that veers from the canon as prescribed,” she said.

Hollingsworth doesn’t think the copyright expiration will change the integrity of the character. She said she looks forward to further public creations of Sherlock.

Camila Rodriguez, an 18-year-old UF English freshman, said that as long as creators honor the original characters, new works are acceptable.

“I mean, he’s Sherlock Holmes, for God’s sake,” she said after Hollingsworth’s discussion. “You have to respect that he’s brilliant.”

Only Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be able to define the lines. The official website of the Estate features a quote from Doyle recorded when a British writer working on a play about Holmes asked permission to give the detective a wife.

“You may marry him, murder him, or do anything you like to him,” he said.

A version of this story ran on page 4 on 1/22/2014 under the headline "Sherlock Holmes now fair game for other authors’ adaptions"

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