The lawsuit brought by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle against the producers and distributors of the 2020 Netflix film Enola Holmes has been dismissed by judges in New Mexico.
The Conan Doyle estate sued Netflix, Legendary Pictures, and Nancy Springer (the original author of the Enola books) claiming that their depiction of famous detective Sherlock Holmes violated a copyright still held by Conan Doyle’s heirs. They argued that the depiction of Sherlock (played by Henry Cavill) as a warm, caring older brother to Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) reflected characteristics which the detective only possessed in later stories, written between 1923 and 1927, which have not yet entered the public domain. The “public domain Holmes,” according to the estate, was cold, calculating, did not form friendships easily, and was generally unkind to women.
In October, Netflix and other associated parties filed a motion to have the case dismissed. They argued that “generic concepts like warmth, kindness, empathy, or respect” could not be copyrighted, and that as a result the entire suit went against existing copyright law.
The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning that the Conan Doyle estate is not allowed to issue another lawsuit for the same complaints.
Unfortunately, the short official statement released alongside the dismissal did not contain much information regarding how the issue was resolved. It is likely that Netflix and the Conan Doyle estate reached some sort of settlement, but details were not made publicly available.
The remaining Sherlock Holmes stories are set to enter the public domain in 2022 and 2023, meaning that it is unlikely we will see future lawsuits from the Conan Doyle estate in the future. In addition, Enola Holmes was fairly successful on Netflix, meaning that it is definitely possible we will see more films, books or TV series with a warm, caring Holmes in the coming years. Perhaps we might even see Cavill reprise the role in an Enola sequel or spinoff!