Follow Us on Twitter

The Da Vinci Code copyright claim rejected by court

The Da Vinci Code

Story by Jack Foley

DAN Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code, did not breach the copyright of an earlier novel, according to a ruling by London’s High Court.

The verdict marks the end of a lengthy legal battle between the best-selling popular author and writers Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who wrote the 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Mr Baigent and Mr Leigh had sued Mr Brown and publishers Random House for allegedly copying their book’s “central theme” in an action that could have threatened the May release of the blockbuster movie starring Tom Hanks.

But the court’s decision means that the film can now be released world-wide and proves, according to Mr Brown, that the claim was “utterly without merit”.

What’s more, Mr Baigent and Mr Leigh must pay 85% of Random House’s costs – an estimated £1.3m.

The legal challenge was mounted amid claims that both The Da Vinci Code and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail explore the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child and their bloodline survives today.

But High Court judge, Mr Justice Peter Smith, said that The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail did not have a central theme in the way its authors suggested.

“It was an artificial creation for the purposes of the litigation working back from the Da Vinci Code,” he ruled.

He conceded that Dan Brown did use the previous book to write certain parts of his novel, but crucially did not substantially copy their work.

And he ordered Mr Leigh and Mr Baigent to make an interim payment of £350,000 by May 5, before refusing the authors permission to appeal.

Mr Justice Smith added: “It is a fact that the claimants’ book sales have benefited from The Da Vinci Code and this litigation.”

The verdict – which was delivered almost a month after the initial two-week hearing – came as a mighty relief to everyone concerned with The Da Vinci Code – from reclusive author, Mr Brown, to film distributors, Sony Pictures.

Speaking outside court, Mr Brown said he remained astonished that the two authors chose to file their suit in the first place and argued that a novelist must be free to “draw appropriately” from historical works without facing a court or having his integrity questioned.

“After devoting so much time and energy to this case, I’m eager to get back to writing my new novel,” he added.

He was backed by Random House chief executive, Gail Rebuck, who stated: “We are pleased that justice – and common sense – have prevailed. It is highly unusual and very sad that these authors chose to sue their publishers, especially after 20 successful years.”

Film company Sony, meanwhile, welcomed the result and pledged that the film would still be released as planned next month.

In spite of their defeat, however, one of the two claimants, Mr Leigh, said that the case had entailed “a conflict between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law”.

“Unfortunately, we lost on the letter of the law, but I think we won on the spirit of the law and to that extent we feel vindicated,” he added.

They also intend to appeal the case, in spite of the judge’s refusal to allow them permission to do so.

Intriguingly, the third author of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Henry Lincoln, did not take part in the claim.

The film version of The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou and Paul Bettany, is being released on May 19 following its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

It is being directed by Ron Howard and will almost certainly become one of the biggest box office hits of the year.