Dan Brown in the dock
Cahal Milmo

Dan Brown
Dan Brown

IN the ornate setting of the Royal Courts of Justice in Central London, the author of The Da Vinci Code, who made £45m in 2004 alone, is being sued for allegedly ripping off the work of two biblical sleuths bent on rewriting Christian history, to provide the basis for his bestseller.

Such was the importance of the case being brought by the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (HBHG)—which was published by Random House in 1982, and laid out the theory that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and left a traceable blood line—that the reclusive Mr Brown even made a rare public appearance to defend himself.

The case turns on the claim that Mr Brown infringed copyright by lifting the central premise of HBHG and used it as the plot for The Da Vinci Code, a shamelessly populist blend of historical conspiracy and murder mystery, also published by Random House.

The opening in May of the `A353m film version of The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, could be threatened by a victory for Mr Brown’s opponents.

Richard Leigh, 62, and Michael Baigent, 57, two of the three authors of HBHG, claim Mr Brown owes them damages because their key theory—that the lineage of Christ married into the Merovingian line of French kings and is protected by a secret society based in France—forms the basis for The Da Vinci Code.

Lawyers for Random House argued that HBHG, which has sold about two million copies, was one of numerous sources consulted by Mr Brown and his wife, Blythe, an art historian, during research for The Da Vinci Code and claimed that their opponents were seeking to copyright history.

Jonathan Rayner James QC, for Mr Leigh and Mr Baigent, said his clients recognised their work was one of "historical conjecture." He added: "This case is not about stultifying creative endeavour. It is not about seeking a monopoly on ideas or historical data. (But) it is not as though Brown has simply lifted a discrete series of raw facts from HBHG. He has lifted the connections that join the points up." He said that Mr Brown had ripped off the very specific thesis of HBHG to lend The Da Vinci Code "plausibility" and save himself the time and effort of independent research. If successful, the claimants could be awarded a share of the profits from the four million copies of The Da Vinci Code sold in Britain and a proportion of future sales.

The authors of HBHG claim that the name of the chief villain in The Da Vinci Code, Leigh Teabing, is a deliberate anagram of the surnames of Mr Leigh and Mr Baigent. But Mr Brown, from New Hampshire, said that he had developed the ideas in his novel long before reading HBHG.

In a witness statement, he said: "By the time we obtained a copy of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, I had already written the synopsis and the opening ... and had in place the themes." Lawyers for Mr Brown insisted that despite this, he had made clear his debt to the authors of HBHG by mentioning the book in The Da Vinci Code. The acknowledgement is less than fulsome.

— By arrangement with The Independent