None of my ancestors was smart enough to create a character who became known to almost everyone in the (English-speaking) world, so maybe I’m not in a position to judge those thus favored. Nevertheless I find it hard to understand holders of ancient copyrights trying to suppress new fictions making use of a character their granddaddy invented. Surely the more stories, books, movies there are featuring Scarlett O’Hara, or James Bond, or Atticus Finch, or Sherlock Holmes, (or even Mickey Mouse dare I say) the better for the sales potential of “the real thing”. Yet with certain properties the impulse to reject any copyright request or to hunt down any parody or fan fic seems impossible to resist. Just stealing the damn thing and offering it for sale is one thing, but someone who has gone to the effort of writing a novel — or making a film —featuring a character we all know and love has surely made enough of a creative effort that they should be allowed to go ahead and make whatever sales they can. The publicity they stimulate will only help sales of your properties.

The Estate of Arthur Conan Doyle is suing Nancy Springer, Legendary Pictures, PCMA Productions, and Netflix over a Holmesian movie, Enola Holmes. The majority of the Sherlock Holmes stories are in the public domain but ten stories written from 1923 to 1927 remain protected by copyright. The claimants allege that words from those stores are used in the film. As The Independent puts it “the suit also claims that Enola Holmes incorporates the ‘human connection and empathy’ that were only displayed by the detective in the copyrighted books”. Give me a break: Sherlock Holmes didn’t display any human emotions prior to 1923, so if he gets upset, that obviously must be an infringement of copyright! All sounds like a bit of a Hail Mary.

Presumably the Estate has been content for Nancy Springer to have published six books already featuring Enola, Holmes’ niece. As Wikipedia tells us “This pastiche series borrows characters and settings from the established canon of Sherlock Holmes, but the Enola character is Springer’s creation and specific to this series. The first book, The Case of the Missing Marquess, and the fifth, The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, were nominated for the Edgar Awards for Best Juvenile Mystery in 2007 and 2010, respectively.” I guess now that big bucks are possibly available with the making of a movie the Estate has decided it’s worth their while to act. Whatever the weakness of their case, maybe to Estate can be persuaded to go away with a little bit of a kickback from the movie’s producers.

LATER: The Verge reports on 20 December that the case has been settled out of court. This means we don’t know whether Holmes’ empathy can or cannot be copyright — the court case didn’t get that far.