Final chapter looms in “Da Vinci” copying case
By Mike Collett-White, Reuters
LONDON (Reuters) – The copyright case against the publishers of “The Da Vinci Code” reached its final chapter on Monday, with lawyers for the claimants renewing accusations that millionaire author Dan Brown stole their ideas.
The Da Vinci Code, one of the most successful novels of all time with sales of over 40 million copies, shares some of the same ideas as “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,” a 1982 work of historical conjecture by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.
Both books raise the possibility that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene, that she fled to France after the Crucifixion and that Christ’s bloodline survives to this day. They also associate Magdalene with the Holy Grail.
“Since first reading The Da Vinci Code, they believe that in writing The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown copied from their work, HBHG,” said Jonathan Rayner James, lawyer for Baigent and Leigh.
The third author of the Holy Blood book, Henry Lincoln, is not part of the legal action.
The case, which has lasted over three weeks, is expected to end later on Monday, and a judgment from Justice Peter Smith could take several weeks.
In his closing submission, Rayner James sought to play down fears that a win for the historians would limit the extent to which novelists can draw on sources, historical or otherwise.
“In this case, Brown has used HBHG with the intention of appropriating the work of its authors,” Rayner James said. “He and/or Blythe has intentionally used HBHG in order to save the time and effort that independent research would have required.”
Brown’s wife Blythe emerged as a key figure in the case, collecting research before he wrote the novel and arguing for the inclusion of some of its most important themes.
WHERE IS BLYTHE?
Rayner James said Blythe’s evidence was of “fundamental importance” to the case.
“It was crucial in revealing the dependency on HBHG and the extent to which she relied upon it,” he said. “Perhaps that explains why she was not produced.”
Dan Brown, who was not in court on Monday but spent three days under cross examination last week, explained that he wanted to keep his wife away from the media spotlight.
“It would have been possible for Blythe Brown to give evidence by video link, thereby limiting the public glare that he says she dislikes,” countered Rayner James.
The lawyer criticized Brown, 41, for being vague about dates and sources. He also called his own client Baigent “a poor witness.”
The historians argue that Blythe must have referred to the Holy Blood book before Brown wrote his synopsis of The Da Vinci Code in January, 2001, contrary to his witness statement.
Copyright lawyers believe the historians may struggle to convince the judge they can copyright general ideas, while publishing executives say the case underlines the saying: “Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ.”
It is not the first time Brown has been accused of plagiarism. Last August he won a court ruling against Lewis Perdue, who alleged The Da Vinci Code copied elements of two of his novels, “Daughter of God” and “The Da Vinci Legacy.”
The losing side in the current case faces over one million pounds ($1.75 million) in legal costs, although the publicity has caused a spike in sales of the Holy Blood book.
Also set to benefit from the media coverage is the Hollywood movie of The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, out in May; the release of the U.S. paperback edition of the novel on March 28, and Baigent, whose book “The Jesus Papers” is due out next week.