I don’t like to make assumptions about the New Year. But this time, dealing with it may be … elementary.
For those of you who missed it, Sherlock Holmes has escaped copyright, an opponent more tenacious than Professor Moriarty. As of 2023, the Great Detective is fully in the public domain, allowing the free use of the stories and characters in any medium. Why, we could see novels, movies, TV shows …
Hmm. OK, then.
If this sounds a little confusing, I don’t blame you. After all, Sherlock Holmes is already one of the best-known and most heavily utilized fictional characters in history. New stories appear every year, maybe every month. You can find him in board games. You can find him on stage. If you looked hard enough, you could probably find him in breakfast cereal. Could he be any more public?
As it happens, even Inspector Lestrade could predict the answer: lawyers. Holmes, as it turns out, has long lived in a legal gray area. The bulk of his stories by Arthur Conan Doyle did indeed come into the public domain ages ago. But with a small number of the tales still under copyright, Doyle’s estate could and did battle (most recently with Netflix) over “unauthorized” use of the character. So he was public, but … not that public?
I could get even further into the silliness of protecting an author’s rights for nearly a century after his death. (Doyle passed away in 1930.) But no one wants to start the new year with a thesis on intellectual property law. Well, except maybe Sherlock’s smarter brother Mycroft, but he hasn’t been returning my texts lately.
Instead, in honor of this year’s literary liberation, I’d like to suggest a few Sherlock-style resolutions for 2023:
- Pay Attention: Everyone knows the scene where Holmes meets a client and rattles off the person’s complete biography, based on details he’s noticed. Most of us aren’t going to be THAT observant, but we can make sure to focus on the people around us and better understand where they’re at and what they’re going through.
- Reason, Don’t Assume: Holmes’ most famous proverb is that “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” But sifting one from the other takes thought. If a claim seems wild, check it out. If a claim seems to support what you already believe, check it out even harder – after all, how often do the police in a Holmes story jump to the easy conclusion?
- Find the Right Experts: Holmes talks to people. Constantly. He talks to medical examiners about the state of a corpse, carriage drivers about a suspect’s movements, even informers about the criminal underworld. But he doesn’t ask a street urchin about the Queen. Find the people and sources who can help you learn, and be careful in judging sources.
- Use Your Down Time: There will be time “between cases,” so find a way to restore yourself. That said, Holmes isn’t always the best model for how to spend that time. When he goes to a concert or peruses the news, that’s great. When he uses his drawing-room wall for target practice … not so much.
- Keep a Close Friend: Every Holmes needs his Watson, after all.
With that, best wishes for the year ahead. We’ve all been through some strange adventures lately, and there’s surely more mystery to come. But keep working on the puzzle. And whatever success you find, I hope you lock it in.
Or even Sherlock it in.