Dozens Of Iconic Media, Including Last ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Story Collection, Set To Hit The Public Domain In 2023
Harry Chamberlain at the launch in Edinburgh of the Sherlock Holmes tartan which has been designed by the great great step granddaughter of author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the fictional detective.
Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images

A number of legendary media are about to enter the public domain in 2023, including the last remaining “Sherlock Holmes” mystery book.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyrights on the vast majority of media items expire 70 years after the death of the original author. After that, the works enter the public domain and are available to be freely used by new creators. This year, a number of iconic media of all types are entering the public domain.

The most notable and controversial new work being added to the public domain is the short story collection “The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes,” the final set of Sherlock Holmes mysteries written by the legendary Scottish author and physician, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The collection was the center of a heated legal dispute between the author Leslie Klinger and the Conan Doyle estate, over Klinger’s story collection, “In the Company of Sherlock Holmes,” about associates of the character and story elements featured in the original works. The estate claimed that even though nearly all of Conan Doyle’s original stories were already in the public domain, Klinger could not publish his own story collection because the “Case-Book” was still copyrighted. But a federal judge in 2014 ruled against the estate.

A separate dispute leveled by the estate against the creators of the Netflix film “Enola Holmes” was settled in December 2020. The Doyle Estate leaned on the “Case-Book” stories in that case as well, arguing that a new portrayal of the detective famous for his powers of deduction, with more explicit emotions, infringed on their copyright. A federal judge ruled in favor of the estate in that case.

Besides Sherlock Holmes, a number of other iconic books are entering the public domain. They include:

  • Herbert Asbury’s 1927 novel “The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld” which inspired the Oscar-nominated 2002 film “Gangs of New York,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio
  • “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” by iconic American author Willa Cather
  • “The Big Four,” a mystery featuring British author Agatha Christie’s iconic detective Hercule Poirot
  • “The Tower Treasure,” the first novel of the Hardy Boys series of children’s mystery novels.
  • “Mosquitoes,” by William Faulkner
  • Men Without Women,” by Ernest Hemingway
  • “To The Lighthouse,” by Virginia Woolf

Besides books, the 1927 film “The Jazz Singer,” the first feature film with synchronized sound, or “talkie.” There are also several songs on the list as well, including “The Best Things in Life Are Free,” from the musical “Good News”; the novelty tune “(I Scream You Scream, We All Scream for) Ice Cream”; “Ol’ Man River,” from the iconic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Show Boat”; and the 1927 pop hits “Mississippi Mud” and “My Blue Heaven.”

Last year, the copyright on A.A. Milne’s iconic children’s book series, “Winnie the Pooh.” Months after the copyright expired, movie makers unveiled a slasher horror movie based on the world-famous characters. “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” is scheduled to debut in theatres on February 15.

Next year, one of the most iconic cartoon characters ever will be open to the public. The New York Times reported earlier this week that on January 1, 2024, the copyright for “Steamboat Willy,” the first-ever film featuring Mickey Mouse in his classic depiction, will enter the public domain, though speculation is rampant that Disney will fight a legal battle to keep its rights to him.

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