Yesterday brought the first official look at Netflix's new movie Enola Holmes, a feature film starring Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown as the younger sister of the famous detective. It wasn't the only news concerning the film to be released though as the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes) has filed a lawsuit against Netflix, the book's author Nancy Springer, her publisher Random House, and production company Legendary Pictures as well. The Hollywood Reporter brings word of the suit which has the estate seeking damages against all the involved parties. Could they be successful in this venture? Maybe!
As readers and film fans around the world no doubt know, Sherlock Holmes as a character has been around for over 130 years. One would be right to assume that this extended amount of time puts the character in the public domain, meaning anyone would be free to make films or shows based on the character without interruption or a say from the Conan Doyle Estate. However there is one problem, not every story featuring Conan Doyle's character is actually in the public domain.
The official complaint explains it succinctly enough, noting that fifty of the sixty stories or works written by the author featuring Sherlock Holmes are in the public domain. Ten stories, collected in "The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes" and published from 1921 to 1927, have been entering the public domain since 2016 but some are still protected. The Conan Doyle estate argues that content of these stories differs the character significantly from his previous works as Sherlock Holmes is presented as being "warmer," "capable of friendship," "expressing emotion," and "respecting women." These changes were written in response to Conan Doyle losing family members to World War I and deciding that his famously analytical character needed to grow being being "aloof and unemotional."
How these qualifications effect the Enola Holmes books and feature film is in the complaint as well. According to the Conan Doyle Estate, the novel and movie have Sherlock Holmes (played by Henry Cavill in the film) reacting coldly to Enola and later reacting warmly to her and with kindness as she grows on him. They argue these aspects of the character are still protected by copyright and not included in the public domain Sherlock Holmes stories.
That in mind it's possible they'll have a case here with the courts, but with the upcoming film set to be released in September, there's a bit of a ticking clock for the court system to figure it out. It's worth noting however that the Conan Doyle Estate previously sued Miramax over the 2015 feature film Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen as the character. That suit was settled out of court and didn't move to trial.
Check back here for future updates on the legal battle over Enola Holmes and how it effects the film's release on Netflix as we learn them.