A few days ago, the US District Court for part of Illinois ruled that Sherlock and Watson are in the public domain. The court case was between a Sherlockian scholar and fanfic writer Leslie S Klinger versus the Conan Doyle Estate, which stated the Sherlock was under the estates copyright since original stories were published about him post 1923.
Klinger only wanted to use pre-1923 cannon (story) and characters, and filed the civil complaint against the Estate in preparation for his (and his editor Laurie R King’s) up-coming anthology “In the Company of Sherlock Holmes” through Pegasus Books. “In the Company…” is a collection of short stories written by many different Sherlockian fan fic writers.
This ruling has large significance. First, it clarifies and highlights that all characters created before 1923 are in the public domain. (OTW points out that this includes Borrough’s Tarzan, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and Disney’s Mickey Mouse. http://www.tranformativeworks.org)
Secondly, it’s a huge step in the direction of proper recognition and appreciation of fan fiction writing as an art form. Not only do large corporations get to re-envision tales, myths, and characters to suit their purposes, but the everyday man can do it to, and benefit from their creative products.
I’m looking forward to seeing a boom in Johnlock fic up for sale. If there is anything that fan fiction does well, it’s challenge dominant paradigms, and now we are seeing a huge opportunity for the writers.
Organization for Tranformative Work’s page on Sherlock ruling: http://transformativeworks.org/news/free-sherlock-implications-summary-judgment-sherlock-holmes-case