Already considered public domain in his home country of England, Sherlock Holmes and his associated characters have been ruled public domain in America this past Friday by a federal judge.

Editor Leslie Klinger filed a civil complaint in February after his publisher, Pegasus Books, refused to publish the collection In the Company of Sherlock Holmes after receiving a notice from Conan Doyle Estate Ltd. saying they planned to prevent the book from being sold through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and similar retailers unless they received a new licensing fee.  Klinger had paid a $5,000 licensing fee when he published a previous Holmes collection, but the Conan Doyle Estate felt they were due a new fee for the new work.

Ruling on the complaint this past week, Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, said that all works, characters, and locations associated with the Sherlock Holmes stories published before 1923 are now in public domain, allowing anyone to use the material without seeking permission.  Judge Castillo rejected the estate’s “novel legal argument” that the characters should remain under copyright as they were still changing and not entirely completed until Arthur Conan Doyle published his final Holmes work in 1927.  However, Castillo upheld the time limitations on public domain, saying that all characters and plot points that debuted after 1923, such as Watson’s second wife and athletic career, are still recognized under American copyright.

The lawyer for the Conan Doyle Estate, Benjamin W. Allison, said that the estate will be looking into the possibility of an appeal, but assured that this ruling would not have any impact of current licensing agreements.