‘Sherlock Holmes’ and Many Other Works Become Public Domain in 2023

Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place

A 1927 illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele from “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place” in Arthur Conan Doyle's “The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Every year, works of art, literature, and music pass into the public domain as their copyright terms expire. Intellectual property law is meant to ensure that creatives can protect their ideas and support themselves on their earnings. However, when these terms of protection expire, public domain designation can inspire new waves of creativity. Suddenly, a new generation can remix music, retell old stories, and access free copies of great works. In 2023, well-known works such as Arthur Conan Doyle's The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes become public domain, along with other seminal works.

Copyright laws vary around the world. In the U.S., the Copyright Term Extension Act in 1998 determined the schedule by which books, movies, and other published works pass into the public domain: 95 years after publication. Therefore, 2023 welcomes the works of 1927 to the public domain. Unpublished works become public domain this year if the author died in 1952. A public domain designation means it is free to use and reference. Countless great works have long been in the public domain, such as Shakespeare's original plays.

In 2023, Virginia Wolf's To the Lighthouse will become public domain. Readers will enjoy the modernist book's philosophical meditations told throughout a family's visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Also becoming public domain is the last of the Sherlock Holmes canon, the twelve short stories in The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes. These include The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place and The Adventure of the Veiled Lodger. These last stories bring the character of Sherlock Holmes completely into the public domain after a lengthy legal battle between the author's estate and an avid fan of the tales. Franz Kafka's Amerika, an off-kilter tale of an immigrant teen, also becomes public domain.

Also entering the public domain is a collection of poetry by the African American luminaries of the Harlem Renaissance. Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Black Poets of the Twenties (1927) includes works by 38 Black poets. Among them were Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Arna Bontemps, and James Weldon Johnson. Another monumental achievement from 1927 which will now be in the public domain is Metropolis, a pivotal dystopian sci-fi film that laid the foundation for later works such as Blade Runner. Other 1927 films include Wings—a silent film about two pilots competing for love which won the first Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929—and London After Midnight, a famous film lost in the MGM 1958 fire.

To learn more about works in the public domain, and which pieces of cultural history will become public in future years, check out The Public Domain Review. Read, watch, learn, and enjoy.

In 2023, books and films published in 1927 will become public domain.

Wings Movie

“Wings,” the silent film which won the first Academy Award for Best Picture in 1929. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

This includes Franz Kafka's Amerika, Arthur Conan Doyle's final short stories about Sherlock Holmes, Virginia Wolf's To the Lighthouse, and a pivotal anthology of African American poetry.

Virginia Woolf To the Lighthouse

Virginia Wolf photographed around 1927. Wolf's work “To the Lighthouse” becomes public domain in 2023. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Films from 1927 include Wings and Metropolis.

Langston Hughes

Writer Langston Hughs, photographed in 1943 by Gordon Parks. Hughs is among the poets included in “Caroling Dusk,” a poetry anthology which becomes public domain in 2023. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Once in the public domain, these works can be freely used and referenced.

Kafka Amerika

A first edition copy of Franz Kafka's “Amerkia.” (Photo: © Foto H.-P.Haack via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0)

h/t: [Polygon]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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