2 authors appeal over rejection of claim against 'Da Vinci Code'

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Richard Leigh

LONDON -- Lawyers for two authors who claim the novelist Dan Brown stole their ideas for his blockbuster novel "The Da Vinci Code" urged Britain's Court of Appeal this week to overturn Brown's earlier victory in the copyright infringement case.

Lawyers for Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who face a legal bill of more than $2 million if the earlier verdict stands, said Tuesday the lower court ruling "was based on a misunderstanding of the law and of the claim."

Baigent and Leigh contend that Brown stole significant parts of their book "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" to use in his novel. Both books are based on a theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had a child, and that the bloodline continues to this day.

The lawyers said Baigent and Leigh had "expended a vast amount of skill and labor" in writing their book, first published in 1982. "That skill and labor is protectable."

Brown testified for several days during the High Court hearing last year but he was not in court Tuesday.

The claimants' lawyer, Jonathan Rayner James, said that although the suit had been against the publisher rather than Brown, "in reality, Mr. Brown was effectively on trial over his authorship of 'The Da Vinci Code.'"

Rayner James said many questions remained about the role of Brown's wife, Blythe Brown, who did much of the original research for "The Da Vinci Code." She did not testify at the High Court hearing, and Brown said he had wished to protect his media-shy wife from the glare of publicity.

Rayner James said "adverse inferences" might be drawn from Blythe Brown's absence. He said Dan Brown's explanation of her role in his research had been "less than full."

In April, Justice Peter Smith ruled that Random House, publisher of "The Da Vinci Code," had not breached the copyright. Smith said Baigent and Leigh's claim had been based on a "selective number of facts and ideas artificially taken out of [the book] for the purpose of the litigation."

Baigent and Leigh were ordered to pay 85 percent of Random House's legal bill, estimated at $2.6 million.

In a statement, Random House said it regretted "that more time and money is being spent trying to establish a case that was so comprehensively defeated in the High Court."

"The Da Vinci Code" has sold more than 40 million copies since its release in March 2003. A film version starring Tom Hanks was released last year.

"The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" -- also published by Random House -- was a best-seller on its release more than 20 years ago, and climbed sales charts again thanks to publicity surrounding the case.

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