The write verdict for The Da Vinci Code

In a verdict worthy of a thriller, Britain’s High Court on Friday rejected a claim that author Dan Brown stole key elements of his blockbuster The Da Vinci Code from an earlier book by two other writers.

Brown had been accused of breach of copyright by plagiarising passages from The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, for his 2003 novel.

The High Court in London disagreed, an outcome that now clears the way for the upcoming release of the multi-million-dollar film version of The Da Vinci Code, directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks and Sir Ian McKellen.

In a statement after the ruling, Brown said: “Today’s [Friday’s] verdict shows that this claim was utterly without merit. I’m still astonished that these two authors chose to file their suit at all.”

Both books—published by Random House—explored the idea that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene, had children, and that their descendants have survived up to the present day.

The Da Vinci Code has sold about 40-million copies worldwide and sparked a minor tourist boom around some of the sites it mentions, include the Louvre Museum.

Ending one of the most sensational literary cases ever to pass through the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, Justice Peter Smith said it was clear that some passages from Holy Blood had been used during the writing of The Da Vinci Code.

But he rejected the plaintiffs’ contention that there was copyright-protected “architecture” and “structure” in Holy Blood which Brown had infringed upon, saying the earlier book had no central theme.

“Even if the central themes were copied, they are too general or of too low a level of abstraction to be capable of protection by copyright law,” he said.

“Accordingly there is no copyright infringement either by textual copying or non-textual copying of a substantial part of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail by means of copying the central themes.”

The trial began February 27, with Brown testifying that he did not read Holy Blood until a late stage in the writing of The Da Vinci Code.

He acknowledged, however, that much of the research for his best-seller was carried out by his wife Blythe, who did not appear in court.

Jonathan Rayner James, lawyer for Baigent and Leigh, contended during the trial that Brown’s evidence denying plagiarism was to be viewed with “deep suspicion”. In the witness stand, Brown told the judge: “For them to suggest, as I understand that they do, that I have ‘hijacked and exploited’ their work is simply untrue.”

Random House chief executive Gail Rebuck said: “It is highly unusual and very sad that these authors chose to sue their publishers, especially after 20 successful years.
Copyright law tries to strike a fair balance between protecting the rights of authors and allowing literary freedom. Happily, today’s [Friday’s] judgment ensures that novelists remain free to draw on ideas and historical research.”—AFP

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