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Judge rejects claims in ‘Da Vinci’ suit

British court finds that Dan Brown did not steal authors' ideas
/ Source: The Associated Press

A judge ruled Friday that mega-selling author Dan Brown did not steal ideas for “The Da Vinci Code” from a nonfiction work, ending the suspense about the case with an ultimately unsurprising decision.

High Court judge Peter Smith rejected a copyright-infringement claim by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,” who claimed that Brown’s blockbuster “appropriated the architecture” of their 1982 book. In the United States, the book is titled, “Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”

The ruling will allow a film based on the book and starring Tom Hanks to open as scheduled on May 19.

Smith said the plaintiffs had based their copying claim on a “selective number of facts and ideas artificially taken out of (the book) for the purpose of the litigation.”

“It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC (Da Vinci Code) has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright,” Smith said in his 71-page.

Brown said he was pleased by the ruling “not only from a personal standpoint but also as a novelist.”

“Today’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,” Brown in a statement, adding that he was “eager to get back to writing.”

Both books explore theories that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, the couple had a child and the bloodline survives. Most historians and theologians scoff at such ideas, but Brown’s fast-paced mix of murder, mysticism, code-breaking and art history has won millions of fans.

“The Da Vinci Code” has sold more than 40 million copies — including 12 million hardcovers in the United States — since it was released in March 2003. It came out in paperback in the United States last week, and quickly sold more than 500,000 copies, an astonishing pace for a paperback release. An initial print run of 5 million has already been raised to 6 million.

Random House said the case should have never made it to court.

“We never believed it should have come to court and frequently tried to explain why to the claimants,” said Gail Rebuck, chief executive of Random House Ltd.

Leigh and Baigent may have to pay costs that legal experts estimate will top $1.75 million.

‘No copyright in ideas’Brown’s victory was widely anticipated by lawyers because copyright protects the expression of an idea rather than the idea itself.

“There is no copyright in ideas,” said Mark Stephens, a lawyer specializing in media law and copyright issues. “It’s just about how words are expressed.”

“If the verdict were in favor of the plaintiffs, the judge (would) have rewritten the law of copyright.”

The case drew a packed crowd of journalists, Brown fans and theological revisionists to London’s neo-Gothic High Court last month.

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Smith retained an air of bluff good humor during sometimes esoteric hearings that touched on the Roman Emperor Constantine’s deathbed conversion to Christianity, the founding of the medieval warrior order the Knights Templar, the Merovingian dynasty allegedly descended from Jesus, and the perfidy of a seventh-century official named Pepin the Fat.

Many books usedThe publicity-shy Brown traveled from New Hampshire to testify on behalf of his publisher, and spent three days on the stand.

Brown acknowledged that he and his wife, Blythe, read “Holy Blood” while researching “Da Vinci,” but said they also used 38 other books and hundreds of documents, and that the British authors’ book was not crucial to their work.

Baigent and Leigh claimed Brown’s novel contains the same central themes as their book. But under cross-examination, Baigent conceded that it had been an exaggeration to say that Brown used “all the same historical conjecture” as their book.

Random House lawyer John Baldwin said that while many of the incidents in “The Da Vinci Code” had been described before, “no one has put them together, and developed and expressed them, in the way Mr. Brown did. That is why he has a best-seller.”

Thanks to the case, so do Baigent and Leigh. Their 24-year-old book is selling 7,000 copies a week in Britain, compared with a few hundred before the case began. Baigent’s new book, “The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History,” has an initial print run of 150,000 copies in the United States.

Their book is published by Random House.