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Defense says copyright-infringement case against 'Da Vinci Code' is 'in tatters'

Saturday, March 18, 2006

LONDON -- A lawyer for the publisher of "The Da Vinci Code" wrapped up the defense's case Friday by telling London's High Court that two authors' claim for copyright infringement was "in tatters."

Setting out closing arguments as the three-week trial nears its end, defense attorney John Baldwin said it was clear that Dan Brown's best-selling thriller had not copied from work by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.

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.

"The claimants' case is now in tatters," said Baldwin, who represents publisher Random House.

Baigent and Leigh are suing Random House for copyright infringement, claiming Brown "appropriated the architecture" of their 1982 nonfiction work, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail."

During three days of testimony that ended Wednesday, Brown acknowledged that he had reworked other writers' material but rejected claims that he copied Baigent and Leigh's work for his sensational and controversial page-turner, first released March 18, 2003. The novel has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and remains high on best seller lists upon its third anniversary of publication.

Both books explore theories -- dismissed by theologians -- that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, the couple had a child and that the bloodline survives.

Baldwin said it was clear "that Mr. Brown did not copy ('The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail') as alleged by the claimants.

"However, even if Mr. Brown had taken these ideas from (the book), the claimants will still fail. The ideas are of too general a nature to be capable of copyright protection," he said. "The claimants' claim relates to ideas at a high level of generality, which copyright does not protect."

Baldwin's four-hour closing argument indicated how seriously Random House takes the fundamental issue of copyright law regarding basic issues such as plot, themes, historical information and interpretations used in novels.

Before he addressed the court, Baldwin presented it with a 95-page copy of his closing argument, including 127 footnotes.

Judge Peter Smith, who often questioned Baldwin, said that Baigent and Leigh had been original in their examination of several issues, such as Jesus' bloodline, and they believe that Brown used a substantial part of their themes in "The Da Vinci Code."

The issue, Smith said, is whether that amounted to a copyright violation.

If Baigent and Leigh succeed in securing an injunction to bar the use of their material, they could hold up the scheduled May 19 film release of "The Da Vinci Code," starring Tom Hanks. Sony Pictures says it plans to release the film as scheduled.

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

Asked about passages from "The Da Vinci Code" that were similar to those in "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," Brown acknowledged "reworking of the passage -- that's how you incorporate research into a novel."

But Brown, who traveled from his New Hampshire home for the trial, denied copying. The author, who has made few public appearances over the past year, did not attend Friday's court session.

Random House lawyers argued that many of the ideas in "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" do not feature in Brown's novel, which follows fictional professor Robert Langdon as he investigates the murder of an elderly member of an ancient society that guards dark secrets about the story of Jesus and the quest for the Holy Grail.

The prosecution will present its closing argument Monday, with a verdict possible next week.


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