At the time of this posting, it is now 37 days until the final two original Sherlock Holmes casefiles written by Arthur Conan Doyle enter the public domain.
There are a couple of reasons for that.
First, for works created by non-corporate authors and first published prior to 1978, the duration of copyright is determined based on the date of first publication, rather than the lifetime of the artist. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories were published serially over a forty-year period spanning 1887 through 1927 (inclusive), so there’s been a long stretch where some but not all of them have resided in the public domain. Works first published in 1927 will enter the public domain on January 1st, 2023.
Second, back in the 1990s, Disney engaged in a major lobbying push to prevent cartoons featuring Mickey Mouse from entering the public domain. The result of this lobbying was the Copyright Term Extension Act
of 1998, often informally known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. Because obtaining an exemption for Mickey Mouse in particular wasn’t politically tenable, the effect of this act was to institute a twenty-year extension of all extant copyrights at the time that the act went into effect. The public domain in the United States was thus “frozen” for twenty years, with no new works whatsoever entering the public domain between January 1st, 1998 and January 1st, 2019.
In the absence of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, the final Sherlock Holmes stories would have entered the public domain in 2003.
Most importantly, this will end the Doyle estate’s ability to go through every Holmes production with a fine toothed comb to try and find something they can attribute to what they still hold copyright on.
“Sherlock? Human nuance??? WE HAVE A COPYRIGHT ON HUMAN NUANCE!!!”