A federal court in Illinois has recently decided that Sherlock Holmes — or, more precisely, the characters and incidents in the Sherlock Holmes stories published prior to 1923 — have, indeed, finally fallen into the public domain. Not, mind you, anything post-1923 – but, via the complex workings of the Copyright Act, the pre-1923 stuff is free for all.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was born in 1859. He is as distant a figure from my students, say, as Charles Dickens is to me – from, literally, another age. I can understand and even celebrate a copyright system that enriches Mr. Doyle a-plenty for the wonderful contributions that he made to our shared culture. But I cannot understand – and no rational person could possibly explain or justify, in my view – a copyright system that continues to transfer money from other creators and readers and viewers of movies to Mr Doyle’s great-great-great-great-grandchildren, on account of those long-ago contributions. It is ridiculous and an embarrassment to us all.
[Correction: I initially wrote that Doyle was born in 1879, whereas it was actually 1859 – making it even more ridiculous . . . ]