Saturday, June 24, 2006

Da Vinci Code and all that

In 2003, author Daniel Brown's book 'The Da Vinci Code' was published
and rapidly rose through the book charts to become a best seller.

The plot revolves around the theory that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene
and had children by her whose decendants still survive, protected by
a secret organisation, the Priory of Sion.

In Febuary 2006 Daniel Brown and his publishers were taken to court
by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of the
non fiction book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Baigent and Leigh
claim that Brown has plagarised their work.

Brown freely acknowleges that he has based his novel on their book's

He even quotes the name and authors as a reference book found on the
bookshelf of Sir Leigh Teabing, a character in Brown's book. Even
the name Leigh Teabing seems to be made up of Richard Leigh and an anagram
of Baigent. An earlier character in the Da Vinci Code has the surname
Saunière, a name which features prominently in Holy Blood and
Holy Grail. Brown states that his book however is fiction based on facts
- and facts cannot be protected by copyright.

What do Baignet and Leigh hope to gain by taking Brown to court? If
they win they could prevent further infringement of their copyright and
could bar Random House, the publisher, from continuing to publish Brown's
novel. They could also affect the British release of a star-studded
film version of the story. But hold on a second - Random House? That's
the name of the publisher of Holy Blood and Holy Grail!

Now it could just be my suspicious mind but so far in the case Leigh
and Baigent's seem to be going out of their way to persue an unwinnable
case. It's already been accepted in law that facts can't be copyrighted.
In fact the only way for the case to be valid is for the authors of Holy
Blood and Holy Grail to admit that their book is fiction rather than
fact - which would make their book worthless. While they do this the
lawyers for Brown and the Publisher seem to be doing everything they
can to do to prolong the case, by making clearly false statements.
One newspaper reported that the lawyers for the publisher said that the
Priory of Sion did not feature in Brown's novel. Maybe he hasn't read
it yet!

The judge has put a hold on the case while he reads both books. Something
I'm sure he will find enjoyable and thought provoking since both books
are well worth reading. Maybe he won't notice the Observer comment printed
on the dustcover of Holy Blood and Holy Grail "A marvelous theme for
a novel".

If you go to your local bookstore, you'll probably find them
next to each other. I have the illustrated versions of both and the publishers
have clearly made them to compliment each other. They are even very similar
in size. Holy
Blood and Holy Grail was first published in 1982. It was popular then
but it's sales slackened off over the years. Since the publication of
the Da Vinci Code however it's been re-issued and after the start of
the court proceedings it's climbed to number 4 in the best seller lists.

Now it seems to me that the publication of The Da Vinci Code has not
harmed the authors Baigent and Leigh one jot. In fact it's made them
a lot of sales they wouldn't otherwise have got. As to the court case
- it's probably a cheaper way of advertising than comercials on TV. Win
or lose they'll make money from it but let's hope they lose since:

  1. If they win then their book must be fiction. I like their book and
    wouldn't want it admitted as worthless.

  2. If they win without it being fiction it will have a profound effect
    on authors. As one expert on copyright put it 'This case...
    could open a floodgate of litigation for people who have had their
    ideas, as they see it, stolen by more successful people.


Seems the Court agreed with me. Baignet and Leigh lost their case although
they said they would appeal. The film was released on time and... I wouldn't
expect it to win any Oscars. Buy the book - it's better.

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