Localization and Copyright: The Story of Herlock Sholmes

What’s in a name? Copyright, apparently.


Capcom’s recent announcement of the localization of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles caused a stir among fans, many of whom noticed a significant name change in the translation.

Annaliese Simons, Bear Hub Staff

When it comes to games, localization can be tricky. Beyond translations, developers often need to adapt cultural references, slang terms, and location to better fit the intended audience. Capcom’s Ace Attorney franchise, a series of murder-mystery-slash-courtroom-drama visual novels, is well-known for the quality of its localizations, which tend to be culturally appropriate, accurate to the original, and largely error-free.

However, Capcom’s recent announcement of the upcoming localization of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, two spin-off games which take place in Meiji Period Japan and Victorian-era England, revealed a significant difference between the two versions. While the original games focus on protagonist Ryūnosuke Naruhodō, they also feature the well-known detective Sherlock Holmes — whose name has been changed to Herlock Sholmes for the English-language localization.

Upon hearing this, my first question was “Why?” What reason would Capcom have to change his name? And why change it to something so ridiculous?

The answer, it seems, would lie in copyright.

Different countries have different laws pertaining to intellectual property rights. In the United Kingdom, for example, copyright lasts for seventy years after an author’s death. There, all of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories featuring Sherlock Holmes are in the public domain, meaning that anyone can use the characters or text. But in the United States, changes in copyright laws mean that ten stories featuring Holmes, all published between 1923 and 1927, are under copyright until 2023. These stories show a version of the character that is more emotional and friendly, as opposed to the cold and calculating version presented in the public domain stories.

That means Capcom has good reason to worry. Its version of the great detective most closely resembles this warmer, friendlier version — something that the Arthur Conan Doyle estate has previously taken legal action over. In 2020, the estate sued Netflix for its movie Enola Holmes, which featured this emotional version of Sherlock. And though the lawsuit was eventually dropped, it would make sense for Capcom to avoid potential legal action against its localization.

Okay, fine. But why Herlock?

Well, the name comes from the novel Arsène Lupin versus Herlock Sholmes. Written in 1906 by Maurice Leblanc, the name was chosen at the time to avoid any legal issues. It’s a clever reference for Capcom to make, if a little on-the-nose.

So there you have it. Despite the name’s uncanny valley-esque spelling, Herlock Sholmes will be debuting in Spring 2022, along with the cast of The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles. And until all of the remaining stories enter the public domain in 2023, fans of the more emotional version of the character may just have to get used to Herlock.