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Univ. of Kentucky College of Law

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Is Sherlock Holmes in the Public Domain?

Alex Heimbach investigates the issues:

The copyright to works published before 1923 have expired in the U.S. [...]  Sherlock Holmes story elements—including Holmes’ deductive skills, his friendship with Watson, and his frequent disguises—mostly appear in pre-1923 stories and have thus passed into public domain with the earlier stories.  The estate maintains that the character as a whole remains under copyright until all of the stories are in the public domain. As the Estate’s lawyer, Benjamin Allison, told The New York Times last week, “Holmes is a unified literary character that wasn’t completely developed until the author laid down his pen.”

Steve Clowney

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/property/2013/03/is-sherlock-holmes-in-the-public-domain.html

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Comments

Not to be a stickler but this post (and the linked article) asserts that the copyrights in works published before 1923 have expired. I think this is wrong. The relevant statutory provision says:

(b) Copyrights in Their Renewal Term at the Time of the Effective Date of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.7— Any copyright still in its renewal term at the time that the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act becomes effective shall have a copyright term of 95 years from the date copyright was originally secured.

That would mean the copyright in works published before 1918 (rather than 1923) have expired, right? Am I missing something?

Posted by: Deidre Keller | Mar 28, 2013 4:50:29 AM

To answer my own question, I was missing something. I have found the something I was missing; namely, the annotations to the current statute. Please pardon my lapse.

Posted by: Deidre Keller | Mar 28, 2013 4:17:03 PM

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