At least now he does.
Last week, a judge ruled that the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle concerning Sherlock Holmes were, in fact, in the public domain. Up until this point, stories about the the world’s greatest detective (except for possibly Batman, but I’m willing to see the arguments on both sides for this) could only be written by those who paid a license fee. Apparently, a $5,000 license fee.
Now, if you’re making a blockbuster movie with Robert Downie Jr., that’s chump change. Downie’s bottle water probably cost more than that. If you want to reimagine Mr. Holmes’ adventures though, well, you were probably shit out of luck.
On the one hand, all for the Conan Doyle Estate for being able to reap the rewards of a classic character. Doyle created him, put the work in, enjoyed the benefits and then passed those benefits onto his family after his death. I sincerely hope to be able to do the same, and furthermore, I hope to leave a big enough one that it can be referred to as an estate, not just that jar of pennies he had under the bed, insulated by the forgotten, worm eaten pages of his failings.
But! It has been a long friggin’ time since the last Sherlock story was published (1927) and a long time since Doyle passed (1930). It is about time for this to pass out of copyright protection, but that’s not really the point.
The point is that last week, one of the most beloved characters ever written passed a milestone. People can, for the most part, freely interpret him any way they see fit. Sure, we’ve been doing that for years. The Sherlock movies, Cumberbatch’s fabulous Sherlock show and the…other one. Neil Gaiman also has a pretty awesome Lovecraftian interpretation, but now individual authors, directors, developers can do it. It’s more important than being in the public domain, more important than the business. How many interpretations are there of King Arthur? Plenty are bad, but even more are great.
That’s the step Sherlock Holmes just took.
The step into legend.