Copyright Law Means Netflix Can Be Sued For Giving Sherlock Feelings

Remake Sherlock Holmes as many times as you want -- as long as he's an insufferable jerk.
Copyright Law Means Netflix Can Be Sued For Giving Sherlock Feelings

In a world where it's practically illegal to create original characters, you've gotta know your copyright law. One wrong move, and you'll find yourself crushed under the vengeful legal wheels of the Mouse. Fortunately for the unimaginative, the public domain is a thing, meaning in the U.S. that (usually) once a creator has been dead for 70 years, their work is free game. Mess with Shakespeare's characters all you like. He's several lifetimes removed from giving a shit.

There's still time Hollywood ...

The same is generally true of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who's been dead for 90 goddamn years, which is why we get a new Sherlock Holmes reboot every other year. He's been a zombie, a god-like figure who can stop time and look like Robert Downey, Jr., and even an opiate-addicted, wise-cracking doctor. The good knight's estate generally has to put up with these adaptations, no matter how much they suck. In fact, the only way they can really interfere, apparently, is if the work in question is too well-written.

That's the situation with Netflix's upcoming Enola Holmes, which -- as you might have guessed -- mostly follows a different Holmes (Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown) but features the famous detective (Current(?) Superman, and Famous Jawlines' Man of the Year, Henry Cavill).

So far, so good: The character of Sherlock Holmes is squarely in the public domain. However, Conan Doyle wrote 10 Sherlock stories at the end of his life that 1) remain under copyright for a lot of complicated and boring legal reasons, and 2) his estate considers markedly different from the stories that came before. Most notably, in this case, the Sherlock of these later stories is a lot less of an asshole. There was this whole war, you see, and tons of Conan Doyle's loved ones died, which tends to give a writer's work a bit more depth. Suddenly, Sherlock was allowed to like dogs.

Since Netflix's Sherlock is a complex man with a range of emotions and respect for other people, the estate has argued that the streaming giant is in violation of their copyright. It's not a frivolous lawsuit, either: Judges in previous suits have agreed that such minor details as Sherlock's canine affinity might be a no-touchie for would-be adaptors, because yes, this has absolutely come up before. In fact, the movie is actually based on a series of books written by an entirely different author, so they're suing her, too. It's an ouroboros of creative derivation that ends where we always knew it would: eating its own ass.

Manna displays an extremely limited array of emotions on Twitter.

Top image: Netflix

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