“Enola Holmes” Copyright Lawsuit Dismissed: Unsolved, Yet Resolved

The Netflix film "Enola Holmes" was at the center of a copyright lawsuit filed by the Estate of "Sherlock Holmes" author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which has now been dismissed.
“Enola Holmes” / Netflix

It appears the parties have reached a settlement in a copyright infringement case brought by the Estate of “Sherlock Holmes” author Arthur Conan Doyle.

If you were hoping to read a court opinion deciding whether “respecting women” is a character trait protected by copyright law, I have some unfortunate news: the “Enola Holmes” lawsuit has been dismissed with prejudice by stipulation of the parties.

That means the case was probably settled, although we don’t know for sure. Sherlock Holmes might be able to figure it out, unless he’s too busy deciding where to go on vacation once the last of his stories enters the public domain in two years.

If you’re unfamiliar with this dispute or need a refresher, I wrote back in September about an interesting copyright and trademark infringement lawsuit filed by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in federal district court New Mexico. The lawsuit centered on the recent Netflix film “Enola Holmes,” which is based on a series of books by Nancy Springer featuring the imagined younger sister of famous literary detective Sherlock Holmes. The Doyle estate was upset about the film. To put things more accurately, it was upset that the film’s producers didn’t secure a license to incorporate aspects of Holmes’ personality that the estate contended first appeared in stories that were still protected by copyright law.   

At the end of October, the producers filed a motion to dismiss the case, contending that the Doyle estate was overreaching by trying to force third parties to pay for using the Sherlock Holmes character in their works. As the defendants argued in their motion, “Copyright law does not allow the ownership of generic concepts like warmth, kindness, empathy, or respect, even as expressed by a public domain character—which, of course, belongs to the public, not Plaintiff.”

The Estate hadn’t yet responded to the producers’ motion at the time of Friday’s dismissal, which disposes of the entire case against all of the defendants, including Netflix, Legendary Pictures and the production companies behind “Enola Holmes,” along with the books’ author Springer and publisher Penguin Random House. A copy of the parties’ stipulation to dismiss is below.

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    1. Hi Josie,
      Sure – “With prejudice” just means that the plaintiff can’t refile it. Sometimes plaintiffs will dismiss cases “without prejudice,” which allows them to reserve their right to file at a later date. By dismissing with prejudice, the Doyle Estate here isn’t able to refile the case—it’s over for good.
      Thanks for reading!

  1. do you know whether this agreement was reached through mediation (as I have heard) or simple negotiations between the parties (without a mediator)?

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