Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, said any elements of the series published prior to the 1923 date are no longer covered by U.S. copyright law, and are therefore free for public use without paying a licensing fee to the writer's estate.
Any elements introduced after Jan. 1, 1923, like the fact that Dr. Watson played rugby and had a second wife, are still protected under U.S. copyright law. All Holmes stories are currently under public domain in Britain, the New York Times reported.
The ruling came about after a civil complaint filed in February by Leslie S. Klinger, the editor of the "New Annotated Sherlock Holmes." Klinger and Laurie R. King paid a $5,000 licensing fee for a previous Holmes collection, but said the Conan Doyle estate required a second fee if they wanted to sell their collection through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other "similar retailers."
[New York Times]