The Da Vinci trial is a wrap

da vinci code2By April 8 we should know whether Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown is guilty of copyright infringement in Great Britain. According to reports in the Washington Post and New York Times, the judge's questions seemed to indicate that he was not too thrilled with the plaintiffs. Here's the NYT:

LONDON, March 20 -- The lawyer for the two men who say Dan Brown stole from their book for his novel "The Da Vinci Code" faced sharp and relentless questioning from the judge in the case during closing arguments in the High Court here on Monday.

The judge, Peter Jones, will not issue a decision for several weeks, and it is impossible to know how he will rule. But his tough questions appeared to reflect skepticism, even exasperation, toward some of the arguments put forward by the lawyer for the plaintiffs, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail." (The book's other author, Henry Lincoln, is not taking part in the lawsuit.) They claim that Mr. Brown lifted the central "architecture" for his megaselling "Da Vinci Code" from their nonfiction book, published in 1982.

For instance, when the lawyer, Jonathan Rayner James, argued that Mr. Brown had "been hiding the truth" about when he and his wife, Blythe Brown, who does much of his research, had first consulted "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," Justice Jones stopped him short. If that were true, the judge asked, why had Mr. Brown left out "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" from the bibliography he submitted to the publisher, along with a synopsis of "The Da Vinci Code" in January 2001 -- only to include a pointed reference to the book in the finished novel a year later?

"If he's trying to hide the fact that he's using 'H.B.H.G.' in the synopsis," the judge asked, referring to "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" by its initials, "what's the point of shouting it out from the rooftops in the book?"

Rather than focusing on the possible outcome of the trial, the Post reporter Kevin Sullivan moaned and groaned in his lead about the arcane nature of the trial. I'm not sure what your regular beat is, but not everything can be as exciting and thrilling as The Da Vinci Code, Mr. Sullivan.

booksBut aside from the lead and the author's apparently poor attention span for things arcane, I found the article to be quite thorough and worth reading:

LONDON, March 20 -- The "Da Vinci Code" copyright infringement trial, which ended in a London courtroom Monday, combined lively peeks into a celebrity author's lifestyle and hours of legal arcana so numbing that they put a white-wigged attorney to sleep within feet of the judge.

Fans of media-shy author Dan Brown learned that his inspiration to write fiction came on a Tahitian vacation when he read Sidney Sheldon's alien-invasion thriller "The Doomsday Conspiracy." The next day lawyers were arguing about obscure points of religious history, such as whether and why Pepin the Fat murdered Dagobert II, and what Godefroi de Bouillon was really up to during the First Crusade.

As I pointed out earlier this month, this story matters because it could have a ripple affect on novelists' ability to write one of my most beloved genres: historical fiction.

The same could be said for the movie industry if it is true that Brown copied huge chucks of others' work and simply changed a few words here and there. While that may be OK legally, it is certainly not OK ethically, as Molly adeptly pointed out here.

And while I disagree with much of the purported facts in Brown's book and found convincing arguments why his version of history lacks credibility, I think what he's done in getting people to examine the history of Christianity is tremendous, and other attempts to popularize history through fiction should not be stymied.

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