A UK High Court judge has ruled that Dan Brown, author of the monumentally best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code, did not infringe the copyright of two authors of a non-fiction book presenting the theory that Jesus with Mary Magdalene began a dynasty of European monarchs.
Dan Brown had told the court that while he had read the book concerned, it was only one of a number of sources that he had used, and had prepared his synopsis even before he read it.
Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who wrote The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, published, like The Da Vinci Code by Random House, had argued that he had lifted the “architecture” of their work.
The judge, Mr Justice Peter Smith, said that Brown had not substantially copied their work, and furthermore concluded that 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.
Mr Brown said outside the court that the verdict “shows that this claim was utterly without merit”. He added, “I’m still astonished that these two authors chose to file their suit at all.”
Many authors will be breathing easier after the ruling. The case had challenged a long-held legal view that while words are copyrightable, ideas are not.
The ruling ends a five-week, closely watched court case. Sales of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail have leapt since it began, which might be some help to its authors as they confront what is likely to be a seven-figure legal bill.
The release of The Da Vinci Code film, which stars Tom Hanks, scheduled for May 19, is now likely to go ahead as planned.