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.
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.