Sherlock Holmes belongs to us all: Supreme Court declines to hear case

Benedict Cumberbatch has inspired a new generation of Sherlock Holmes in "Sherlock." Courts have determined Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective is in the public domain.
(Leon Neal / AFP/Getty Images)

It’s official: Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective (and Benedict Cumberbatch’s famous alter ego), is in the public domain.

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a case brought by Doyle’s estate, which claimed that authors who wanted to publish stories about Holmes needed to pay the estate a licensing fee. This leaves intact a June decision by 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner, which held that most of Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are no longer protected by copyright.

The case started last year after Doyle’s estate demanded a licensing fee from the publisher Pegasus, which had planned to release an anthology called “In the Company of Sherlock Holmes,” edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. The book, which features Holmes-inspired stories by contemporary writers, is now for sale.


Klinger sued the estate and won. The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the appeal means Doyle’s estate is out of options in the U.S. The decision does preserve copyright on 10 late Sherlock Holmes stories by Doyle but leaves most of the author’s work and characters in the public domain.

It also means that Holmes fans can occupy themselves by writing their own stories while they’re waiting for the fourth season of the BBC hit “Sherlock,” which likely won’t debut for more than a year.