The Weird Lawsuit Over Netflix’s Enola Holmes, Explained

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To sum it up simply, then, the Conan Doyle Estate sued Netflix, Nancy Springer, Legendary Pictures, and Penguin Random House for depicting Sherlock Holmes as having emotions, something they claim he was only described as having in stories published between 1923 and 1927. At the time the “Enola Holmes” books were written and published and the Netflix adaptation was filmed, the copyright for these later Holmes stories had not expired, and so, argued the Estate, the named parties had infringed on their copyright.

As The Hollywood Reporter detailed in December 2020, Netflix, Legendary Pictures, and the other accused parties settled with the Conan Doyle Estate and “stipulated to dismissal of a lawsuit in New Mexico federal court.” In a piece for Copyright Lately, Aaron Moss highlighted how this dismissal essentially means the question of whether emotions can be copyrighted remains unsolved, writing that, “The case was probably settled, although we don’t know for sure.” Other outlets reported that on December 18, 2020, Netflix “reached an undisclosed settlement” with the Estate, however.

In a motion to dismiss, filed in October of 2020, the defendants argued, “Copyright law does not allow the ownership of generic concepts like warmth, kindness, empathy, or respect, even as expressed by a public domain character — which, of course, belongs to the public, not Plaintiff.” That seems like a perfectly reasonable response to the suit, but because the case was eventually dismissed we’ll never know which argument ultimately won out. Also, as Moss explained, just because a case was dismissed doesn’t mean there wasn’t some sort of settlement agreed between the defendants and the complainant. In that sense, it’s hard to say whether the Estate ultimately won out or not.

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