The Conan Doyle Estate has filed a charge against Netflix as the online streaming giant is scheduled to release “Enola Holmes”. The series is set to focus on the eponymous heroine, who is a sister that is as talented as her famous detective brother.
The estate has filed a charge in New Mexico as they believe this new movie by Netflix infringes upon the copyrights and trademark property of Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes series. Other stakeholders such as Penguin Random House has also been sued.
While the results of the charge remain to be seen, many in both the entertainment and legal industry believe that it is highly unlikely the Conan Doyle Estate can win his case.
The biggest obstacle for them is a 2014 ruling that basically deemed any Holmes-related work prior to 1923 as public property. Judge Richard Posner ruled against the Estate’s claim that Holmes should be considered a complex character.
Posner said that the most famous traits and attributes of the world’s most famous detective was not created in a singular piece of work, but rather through time. In other words, Judge Posner said that every Holmes in the earlier stories should be considered separately as the persona is yet incomplete.
This is why the court ruled that no single entity can claim copyright over the entirety of the Holmes series, as that would mean multiple characters are being trademarked under one name.
Furthermore, that is why works after 1923 are considered legal property, as the court deemed that the character of Sherlock Holmes has remained consistent and complete since then.
The Doyle Estate argued that the most significant difference between the public domain Holmes and copyrighted Holmes is the emphasis on his human emotions and humaneness. The Estate attributed this change of mind to the series of bereavements Doyle went through.
Thus, the Doyle Estate argues, any adaptation or portrayal of Holmes as not just a masterful detective but as a human being should be considered copyrighted material.
Whether abstract concepts such as emotional development of a fictional character can be used as the barometer in trademark cases is untested waters. Neither Netflix nor Legendary Pictures have given their responses to this case.
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