The Da Vinci Case

Plagiarism trial could be as much of a thriller as Dan Brown's novel
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The Independent Online

You've read the book, you're on tenterhooks for the film. But first The Da Vinci Code will be played out in the courtroom in a case that could prove every bit as gripping as Dan Brown's blockbuster.

Tomorrow, the world's biggest-selling adult book will become the subject of intense legal wrangling at the High Court in London, as two authors argue that Brown cannibalised their research.

At stake will be millions of pounds of publishing profits and a threat to the film's release date if the case goes their way.

With sales of 40 million and counting since it was published in 2003, The Da Vinci Codehas become an international phenomenon, generating millions of pounds' worth of publishing and tourism spin-offs. The film version, starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, is completed and is due to be released in May.

But writers Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent claim the novel plagiarises concepts they wrote about in their non-fiction book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, written 20 years earlier.

At the heart of the case is the theory that Christ did not die on the cross but married Mary Magdalene and had a child, starting a bloodline that was protected by the Knights Templar, as detailed in Leigh and Baigent's book. Brown's thriller is also based on the notion that Jesus married Mary, starting a family in France where their descendants continue to live.

The authors have said that there have been "huge chunks" of Brown's book that have been taken from theirs. They claim Brown used their book as a basis for the "architecture" in his.

The case is important because it could establish principles for how freely authors may use the research of others for their own fictional works.

Media lawyer Amber Melville-Brown said: "If you tell a mate in the local about your great idea for a new logo for your favourite ale, there's not much you can do when he sells it to the brewery.

"But jot it down sufficiently clearly on the back of a beer mat with which he makes away, and the position changes. It's not just about drawings: a copyright work can have many different guises, provided it is a creative work that was put together with some 'skill, labour and judgement', some 'selection, judgement and experience'. There is no copyright in a fact, but there can be in the creative expression of that fact."

Brown has already acknowledged a debt to the writers in the pages of his book. He makes reference to their book, which is lifted from a shelf by the character Sir Leigh Teabing (an anagram of Baigent).

If successful, the authors will seek a slice of Brown's profits.

THE PLAYERS

Dan Brown An English teacher before turning to writing full-time. Wrote three novels - Deception Point, Angels & Demons and Digital Fortress - before his breakthrough in 2003.

Michael Baigent New Zealand-born writer who moved to Britain 30 years ago who has written numerous books about historical mysteries. His most recent was The Inquisition.

Richard Leigh Baigent's co-author has worked as a lecturer in his native US and also in Britain, where he now lives. Holds a postgraduate degree in comparative literature.

Ron Howard Director of The Da Vinci Code movie. Worked in TV before moving to films. Won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind in 2002.

THE INDUSTRY

'The Secret Supper' One of dozens of wannabe books feeding on the appetite for historical conspiracies. By the Spanish author Javier Serra, this book has sold more than 500,000 copies in Europe.

'Cracking' The Da Vinci Code' DVD made for a budget of around £6,000. This documentary was picked up by a distributor and went on to sell more than 1.5 million copies.

Rosslyn Chapel One of the locations in the book and film of The Da Vinci Code. Visitor numbers at this Scottish chapel have exploded, with 120,000 last year. In 2003, the figure was 38,000.

'The Rough Guide to The Da Vinci Code' One of dozens of guidebooks that claim to decipher the concepts in Dan Brown's book. Guides to Brown's follow-up, possibly to be called The Solomon Key, have already begun to appear.