Nov 3, 2020

Can the court channel their inner Sherlock Holmes and detect copyright infringement?

Netflix’s new mystery movie Enola Holmes has not pleased all of its audience, namely the estate of the Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The estate filed a copyright infringement claim earlier this year alleging that the Sherlock Holmes character featured in the film is in violation of its copyrights. Netflix are not facing the legal battle alone; the estate has also named Legendary Pictures and Nancy Springer, the author upon which the film is based, in their claim.

Last week, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the claim on the grounds that the Sherlock Holmes character and the famous novels are “undeniably in the public domain”. The concept of being a public domain character essentially means that he can be used in other works without fear of copyright infringement. However, the Claimant alleges some of the later novels are still protected by copyright and that the specific characteristics of Holmes in the Enola Holmes film, being warmer, more empathetic and respectful, violate this. The Defendants claim that ideas, general feelings, emotions and personality traits are not protectable by copyright law, even if they were original.

The estate is also filing for trade mark infringement because the film’s title contains “Holmes” in it, which the Defendants claim should be dismissed as they say the title has artistic relevance to the film and it does not mislead the public into thinking the estate is connected to the new film. It is alleged that the estate are trying to use trade mark law to prevent Sherlock Holmes from being freely used and adapted, which is what copyright law cannot provide in this case.

We will await to see if the court will action the dismissal or if they will favour the estate and progress the matter to trial.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or

in: Copyright, Trade Marks

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