In one of the more ridiculous stories we’ve read of late, the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is suing the producers of Netflix’s upcoming Enola Holmes movie which follows the exploits of Holmes brilliant younger sister played by Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown. Arguing that by making Sherlock have relatable human emotions, the producers are infringing on their copyright. The estate is also suing Netflix, the writer of the original novels Nancy Springer, her publisher Random House and pretty much anyone else they could think of.
While Holmes himself is in the public domain, the estate still holds the copyright for details added in the last 10 Sherlock stories, which were collected and published in 1927. And they are arguing in court that the Sherlock Holmes found in Enola Holmes is based on that version of Holmes.
Specifically, they argue that Holmes was an emotionless jerk, and that any attempt to portray him as having feelings or respecting women violates their copyright since Holmes did not have those attributes in the original batch of stories.
The lawsuit spends an inordinate amount of time establishing that Holmes was kind of a dick in the early stories (he was) and then extrapolating that any story where he is not portrayed as a dick must be based on their copyrighted work.
Doyle’s estate cites passages from the early stories to prove that Holmes didn’t care if Watson was kidnapped, and was completely misogynistic towards women in their efforts to prove that any Holmes that is actually likable and displays “warmth and emotion” must be based on those last few stories where Doyle softened the character a bit.
The lawsuit states:
After the stories that are now in the public domain, and before the Copyrighted Stories, the Great War happened. In World War I Conan Doyle lost his eldest son, Arthur Alleyne Kingsley. Four months later he lost his brother, Brigadier-general Innes Doyle. When Conan Doyle came back to Holmes in the Copyrighted Stories between 1923 and 1927, it was no longer enough that the Holmes character was the most brilliant rational and analytical mind. Holmes needed to be human. The character needed to develop human connection and empathy.
Conan Doyle made the surprising artistic decision to have his most famous character—known around the world as a brain without a heart—develop into a character with a heart. Holmes became warmer. He became capable of friendship. He could express emotion. He began to respect women.Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. vs. Nancy Springer, et al.
I’m not going to argue whether it is stupid or not to be able to claim copyright on the work of a writer who died before the discovery of penicillin (it is), but giving Holmes more relatable emotions and a better view of women is also the kind of thing that anyone updating any century-old fictional character would likely do, and likely has little to do with how he was portrayed in those later stories.
The estate tried something similar when the Miramax movie Mr. Holmes was released, which found the fabled detective trying to solve one last case while in the grasp of dementia. That case was eventually settled out of court.
Here is a link to a full copy of the complaint, if you want to see the kind of lawsuit that is clogging up our courts system these days. The lawsuit states that Netflix will release the Enola Holmes movie in August, but that has not been confirmed.