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Da Vinci Code Copyright Suit Rejected

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I have never understood how the “central theme” of a novel could be grounds for a copyright claim, but the case went ahead nonetheless in London’s High Court. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, writers of the 1982 non-fiction book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, sued publisher Random House, claiming that Dan Brown’s mega-selling The Da Vinci Code “appropriated the architecture” of their book.

Both books address the theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, they had a child, and the bloodline survives today.

Today the judge, Mr. Justice Peter Smith, rejected the suit, saying The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail did not have a central theme. “It was an artificial creation for the purposes of the litigation working back from the Da Vinci Code,” he ruled.

Brown told the BBC that the verdict “shows that this claim was utterly without merit. I’m still astonished that these two authors chose to file their suit at all.”

They chose to file the suit because Brown’s book, published in 2003, has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, and even a slight chance to snag a piece of that monster pie must have seemed worthwhile to Baigent and Leigh. In addition, publicity from the five-week trial has returned their 24-year-old book to the bestseller lists in the U.K.

Coincidence? Unlikely.

In court, Brown said it was “simply untrue” that he had “hijacked and exploited their work,” as other authors had also written on the subject. “Yet I went out of my way to mention them for being the ones who brought the theory to mainstream attention,” he said.

Leigh conceded on the stand that he and his co-authors had “repeated” ideas put forward books written previous to theirs.

Random House said the ruling “ensures that novelists remain free to draw in ideas and historical research.” The ruling also clears the way for the release of The Da Vinci Code film, starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, in May.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Interesting stuff, Eric. I agree with you too about the “central theme” issue. Didn’t Aristotle say way back when that about every idea had already been used?

    Flash forward to the 20th Century, and we have T.S. Eliot complaining about the same thing to Ezra Pound. Pound told him that invariably all writers “steal” to some degree (that Shakespeare didn’t invent the plot of Hamlet for example but “borrowwed” it).

    Pound told him the writer was charged with one rule: “Make it new.” In that sense then, the theme becomes his or her own.

    So now the court has spoken, yet I imagine we will never see the end of this kind of litigation.

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    What I read when this law suit first came out was that Holy Blood, Holy Grail was supposed to be fact and you can’t copyright facts…isn’t that about the gist of it??? I also read that Random House owns the publishing rights to both these books, so it was gonna be a win/win for them.

  • gonzo marx

    ummm…according to INterviews by all three Authors a few years ago…

    HolyBlood, Holy Grail is an “hypothesis”

    Dan Brown HAD read it, and stated in the interview that he believes the basic postulates laid out in the work

    now..i do think the whole lawsuit was a mere publicity stunt…but for the Record, Brown’s work is a fictional novel…and “HB,HG” is a thesis based on factual research presenting a valid hypothesis with plenty of evidence (notice i did NOT say “proof”….and neither have the autrhors)

    hope that helps

    Excelsior!

  • http://theugliestamerican.blogspot.com Andy Marsh

    gonzo – don’t they present it (hb,hg) as fact though? And if that’s the case, can you actually sue someone for stealing facts?

  • gonzo marx

    nope…they state the factual evidence for their hypothesis, but NEVER claim the hypothesis is even a postulate….much less fact

    and they specificaly go out of their way to state that acquired “evidence” and not “proof”

    big differences….kinda like the ones i make around here sometimes…

    heh

    Excelsior!

  • http://insidebrain2005.blogspot.com Matthew Milam

    Billy Wilder happened to be a friend to David Lean (or at least liked his films), so much so that a scene from “Brief Encounter” was the starting point for a famous movie he would direct years later…

    hints:

    A werid haircut
    An Absent-Minded Professor
    A man with wine and roses.

  • Eric Olsen

    UK copyright laws are different: notice it wasn’t filed here.

    I think most damning of all is the fact that HBHG authors admitted THEY got the idea from other books themselves.

    Like Victor says, all ideas come from somewhere.

  • Nancy

    A retired librarian friend of mine mentioned last night when we were discussing this that HGHB was based on a 1959 hoaxed “study” anyway. I don’t have any more details, tho.

  • gonzo marx

    well Nancy..time fer me ta show off a bit…

    what yer Librarian friend was halfway correct in referring to was the Authors using some information from the French Archives, called the “Dossiers Secrets”…considered to be a hoax by a Messr Plantard in an attempt to establish a new French monarchy based on the Merovingian dynasty

    so, your friend is incorrect that the entire work is based on this…merely that much of the modern (ie:post 1500’s) information about the Priory of Sion came from these discredited sources

    the bok itself is fascinating for much of the other things found within, many of which were gleaned from old village and church records, as well as the unique viewpoints taken in looking at established facts

    hope that helps….now go and read the book, forget the DaVinci code pablum…and learn sum’thin

    Excelsior!

  • Eric Olsen

    what of particular interest have you learned?

  • Joey

    I can’t believe a suit is over this… the book was a direct rip off of Masonic writings (which have leaked out over the centuries) and a bit of the “Illuminati 666″ material.

  • Eric Olsen

    I guess it was about publicity and a calculated shot at a portion of 40mil-plus in books sales