The copyright to four novels and 46 stories in which Sherlock Holmes appears has expired, the seventh U.S. circuit court of appeals has ruled. Those 50 volumes are now in the public domain.

The copyright had been owned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate.

Leslie Klinger, an American writer and attorney and a well-known literary annotator and editor of Victorian classics, like Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, was in 2011 about to publish a book of original fiction about Sherlock Holmes titled "A Study in Sherlock: Stories Inspired by the Sherlock Holmes Canon." Doyle's estate demanded that publisher Random House pay a $5,000 licensing fee for the use of the detective character.

The publisher paid up, even though Klinger believed the stories were already in the public domain, meaning the estate had no right to demand the fee.

Klinger wrote a sequel,"In the Company of Sherlock Holmes," which was about to be published by Pegasus Books and distributed by WW Norton & Co. Again the estate told Klinger it would sue him and the publisher if they failed to pay the licensing fee. Klinger sued them this time around, claiming he was not infringing upon the copyright.

The copyright lasts for 95 years or an amount of time based on the length of life of the creator plus 70 years. Ultimately, the court sided with Klinger, ruling that the copyright to 50 Sherlock Holmes books had expired.

Doyle estate lawyer Benjamin Allison said the estate hasn't decided if it will appeal the decision.