Legal battle over Netflix’s Enola Holmes heats up

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate has claimed that the recent Netflix film Enola Holmes is an infringement on its copyright: more details here.

The legal battle over whether Enola Holmes – the recently-released Netflix film – is guilty of copyright infringement has begun to heat up.

We reported a while ago that the Conan Doyle estate, owners of the copyright for some of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, was suing Legendary Pictures, the film’s writer and its director (Jack Thorne and Harry Bradbeer respectively,) as well as Nancy Springer, the author of the stories upon which the film is based.

The key word in that last paragraph is of course ‘some’. Sherlock Holmes is largely a public domain character, meaning that he can be used in other works without fear of copyright infringement. However, some of the later Holmes stories are still protected by copyright and the Conan Doyle estate is claiming that the version of Sherlock portrayed in the recent Enola Holmes film exhibits characteristics unique to these later stories, which is therefore an infringement of copyright.

Unsurprisingly, the film’s legal defence team don’t agree with this assessment and has argued this week for a motion to dismiss the case before it reaches a full-blown court trial. It argues that the Conan Doyle estate is attempting to create ‘a perpetual copyright’ over a character which is clearly in the public domain.

The attorney for the defence also claimed that whilst copyright law does protect characters it does not protect ‘generic concepts’ such as ‘warmth’ and ‘kindness towards women’.

It is the character in Enola Holmes (played by Henry Cavill – the character, not Enola…) demonstrating these emotions that is the point of contention for the Conan Doyle estate. It argues that the Sherlock character only exhibited these traits in the later stories which are still copyright-protected. The film’s defendants counteracted this by providing a list of occurrences from the public domain books where they claim the Holmes character was portrayed as warm and kind towards women (such as The Speckled Band, for example).

You can read about the exchange in greater detail, including a full transcript over at The Hollywood Reporter.  It all sounds rather elementary to us, but when we hear a verdict either way, we’ll certainly let you know.

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