The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle has reached an agreement with Netflix that will see a lawsuit brought by the author’s estate dismissed. The lawsuit was filed earlier this year against the streaming company and alleged that the film Enola Holmes infringed upon copyrighted work by depicting a warmer and more emotional version of Sherlock Holmes.
Conan Doyle died in 1930 and while most of his works are now in the public domain 10 of his famous detective novels are still under copyright in the US.
The lawsuit was brought not only against Netflix but also against the film’s producers Legendary Pictures and the Enola Holmes author Nancy Springer. It argued that Conan Doyle had created “significant new character traits for Holmes and Watson” within the 10 stories that are still under copyright in the US.
The Doyle estate argued that Holmes had previously been depicted by Conan Doyle as “aloof and unemotional,” but when the author sadly lost his son and brother during the first world war, “it was no longer enough that the Holmes character was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind. Holmes needed to be human. The character needed to develop human connection and empathy … He became capable of friendship. He could express emotion. He began to respect women.”
According to the lawsuit the novels by Springer, in which she created a younger sister for Holmes, made “extensive use” of the copyrighted books and that this “constitutes wilful, deliberate, and ongoing infringement of the Conan Doyle Estate’s copyrights”.
In response to these accusations the defendants had argued that feelings, personalities and emotions were not protectable. “Even if the Emotion Trait and Respect Trait were original to copyright protected works, which they are not, they are unprotectable ideas,” they said. “Copyright law does not allow the ownership of generic concepts like warmth, kindness, empathy, or respect, even as expressed by a public domain character – which, of course, belongs to the public, not plaintiff.”
The lawsuit however has now been dismissed with prejudice by stipulation of all parties. “That means the case was probably settled, although we don’t know for sure,” wrote Aaron Moss at Copyright Lately. “Sherlock Holmes might be able to figure it out, unless he’s too busy deciding where to go on vacation once the last of his stories enters the public domain [in the US] in two years.”
This is good news for a number of authors who in recent years have worked on their own Holmes centric stories. The author James Lovegrove has written seven Sherlock Holmes novels and had this to say on the suit, “Holmes has always shown emotions, though not necessarily desirable ones. I think what they were trying to suggest was, because he was sensitive to his sister and had respect for her, even though he normally in the canonical stories doesn’t have a great deal of time for women, they felt that that was something that they could go with. But why? He didn’t have a sister in the canonical stories at all.”