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Sherlock Holmes: Judge declares popular detective is finally free

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Sherlock Holmes has been the focus of books, movies, television shows, but now he is free. He is free to be reimagined in the United States after a federal judge ruled that licensing fees are no longer required for one of the world's greatest detectives, according to The Hollywood Reporter on Dec. 27, 2013.

It was 1887 when Sherlock Holmes was first introduced to the world, and just years ago, he entered the public domain in Britain. Now, he's free for the whole world.

Even though he has been kept popular and alive through numerous sources, including films starring Robert Downey Jr., a quirky little tidbit kept him protected.

That quirk was in the U.S. copyright law and it protected 10 short stories in the gigantic Sherlock Holmes library. Those stories had allowed the descendants of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to retain intellectual property rights in the United States.

A Holmes expert challenged those fees after the estate of Conan Doyle threatened to block the distribution of a book of original short stories. The threat came if the editors did not obtain the license needed to use the Holmes' characters.

Judge Ruben Castillo said that since Holmes and Watson were "continually developed," the copyright protecting the final 10 stories should extend to the characters themselves as well. Therefore, the judge rejected the estate's claim.

"The effect of adopting Conan Doyle's position would be to extend impermissibly the copyright of certain character elements of Holmes and Watson beyond their statutory period," Castillo, chief justice of the northern district of Illinois, wrote in a 22-page opinion issued Monday.

The judge did say that the "story elements" of the original 10 stories of Sherlock Holmes were protected, but everything else was "free for public use."

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