The secrets of history are anybody’s guess. Anybody, apparently, except best-selling author Dan Brown, who faced charges of copyright infringement in a London courtroom last week.
Historians Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent filed the lawsuit against Brown and his publisher, Random House, in February. The two plaintiffs complain that Brown’s 2003 smash-hit novel, The Da Vinci Code, steals a juicy historical revelation from their own 1982 non-fiction work, Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
Both books unveil the staggering notion that Jesus fathered a child and, millennia later, members of his bloodline are walking among us today. Taking the witness stand in his own defense, Brown called the allegations “completely fanciful” and said he did not read Holy Blood, Holy Grail until after he wrote the synopsis of The Da Vinci Code.
After wrapping-up the trial last Monday, the judge is expected to issue a ruling within the next few weeks. At stake are millions of dollars in legal costs, dividends from book sales of 40 million copies, box-office returns from an upcoming film based on the book and Brown’s credibility.
Leigh and Baigent maintain that Brown lifted the central “architecture” of his book from theirs. This is a far cry from accusing Brown of using text verbatim or paraphrasing passages of Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
There certainly are parallels between the books. But Brown didn’t rob Leigh and Baigent of anything. He simply wove their theory into his own unique tale of fiction.
Writers have adopted existing ideas into their own work for centuries. When held to such standards, even William Shakespeare, who borrowed and transformed plots from earlier sources, would be deemed a plagiarist.
Holy Blood, Holy Grail is clearly mentioned by the main characters of The Da Vinci Code. If Brown was in fact “hiding the truth” about the way he used Leigh and Baigent’s work, why would he shout its title from the rooftops by mentioning it in The Da Vinci Code?
If the judge decides in the co-authors’ favor, there could be serious implications for the publishing world. The dispute should disturb anyone whose literary endeavors were inspired by others’ ideas.
The Da Vinci Code has become a mega-selling worldwide phenomenon. For some, the book is a riveting recreational read. For others, it is a book of biblical proportions. Either way, it has sparked a healthy and exciting debate about the true nature of our history. Leigh and Baigent may have started that debate, but Brown certainly deserves credit for bolstering it.