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Sherlock Holmes case: Supreme Court rejects emergency petition from Arthur Conan Doyle’s heirs

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The Supreme Court has dismissed a plea from Arthur Conan Doyle’s heirs, who are trying to stop the publication of a book based on Sherlock Holmes.

Justice Elena Kagan, who was nominated to the court by President Barack Obama, dismissed the plea without explanation.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s family says Leslie Klinger and Laurie R. King should pay a license fee for using the Scottish author’s characters.

An earlier appeals court decision ruled against Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate.

The Supreme Court has dismissed a plea from Arthur Conan Doyle's heirs, who are trying to stop the publication of a book based on Sherlock Holmes

The Supreme Court has dismissed a plea from Arthur Conan Doyle’s heirs, who are trying to stop the publication of a book based on Sherlock Holmes

The seventh US circuit court of appeals in Chicago said that the character of Sherlock Holmes, along with 46 stories and four novels in which he has appeared, was in the public domain.

However, 10 further stories, published between 1923 and 1927, are still protected by US copyright, which expires in December 2022.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate have argued this copyright protection means that anyone creating original stories based on Sherlock Holmes should pay for the privilege.

Leslie Klinger, a known authority on the cerebral detective, handed over the $5,000 licensing fee when he published A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon, in 2011.

But when it came to publishing a second volume, he decided to withhold the money, leading Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate to threaten legal action.

“If you proceed instead to bring out Study in Sherlock II unlicensed, do not expect to see it offered for sale by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and similar retailers,” they wrote.


“We work with those [companies] routinely to weed out unlicensed uses of Sherlock Holmes from their offerings, and will not hesitate to do so with your book as well.”

However, Leslie Klinger sued the estate first, arguing the characters were in the public domain and no fee was due.

The appeals court sided with him on June 16 and now, it appears, the Supreme Court has agreed.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s heirs told the AFP news agency they would follow up the decision “in the coming months” and looked forward to presenting their arguments in a petition to review the lower court’s decision.

Meanwhile, Leslie Klinger has petitioned the courts to require the estate to pay his legal fees of $70,000.

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