“Sherlock Holmes” to enter public domain this year

Works of art, literature, and music pass into the public domain every year as their copyright terms expire and this year, among other well-known works, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes becomes public domain.

What it means is that 2023 welcomes the works of 1927 to the public domain. 

A public domain designation means it is free to use and reference. Countless great works have long been in the public domain, such as Shakespeare’s original plays.

In 2023, Virginia Wolf’s To the Lighthouse will become public domain. Also becoming public domain is the last of the Sherlock Holmes canon, the twelve short stories in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. These include The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place and The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger. These last stories bring the character of Sherlock Holmes completely into the public domain after a lengthy legal battle between the author’s estate and an avid fan of the tales. 

Franz Kafka’s Amerika, an off-kilter tale of an immigrant teen, also becomes public domain.

Also entering the public domain is a collection of poetry by the African American luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance. Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Black Poets of the Twenties (1927) includes works by 38 Black poets. Among them were Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Arna Bontemps, and James Weldon Johnson. 

Another monumental achievement from 1927 which will now be in the public domain is Metropolis, a pivotal dystopian sci-fi film that laid the foundation for later works such as Blade Runner. Other 1927 films include Wings—a silent film about two pilots competing for love which won the first Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929—and London After Midnight, a famous film lost in the MGM 1958 fire.

Intellectual property law is meant to ensure that creatives can protect their ideas and support themselves on their earnings. 

However, Copyright laws vary around the world. In the United States, the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998 determined the schedule by which books, movies, and other published works pass into the public domain 95 years after publication.

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