The New York Times reported that an American judge ruled that Sherlock Holmes, along with friends and foes John Watson, Mycroft Holmes, Moriarty, and more of Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters, are now in the United States public domain. The judgement means that no copyright law applies to the use of story elements in any Holme adventures published before 1923. There were a few after that, so adaptors have to take care to not run up a bill with the author’s estate by using any characters or plots introduced in those later works. But forget that advice, because we are all set with Sherlock reboots at the moment.
Unless you’re as culturally clueless as the detective himself, you know that the character has had a massive renaissance these last few years. Robert Downey Jr. imbued Holmes with serious swagger in the Guy Ritchie-helmed 2009 film version. Between that movie and its sequel, Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat and writer Mark Gatiss launched a phenomenon to drive the internet to insane acts of meme-ing in 2010 with the slick BBC series. And CBS got into the game with its own modernized take Elementary, this time set in New York City and with a Joan, not a John. Even our collective obsession with forensic procedurals hinted at the successful resurgence of this character. There wouldn’t be an NCIS without Sherlock Holmes.
And now he’s free. And it’s tempting. But between Jude Law and RDJ’s chemistry; Benedict Cumberbatch‘s cheekbones; and Jonny Lee Miller’s mania, there just isn’t room out here for another version. At least not a good one. Any attempt to create a Holmes that doesn’t directly copy any of these interpretations will just lead to a watered-down or barely recognizable imitation. And Sherlock deserves better than that.