Publishing, television, film
Da Vinci Code did not copy earlier work: Baigent & Leigh v Random House Group Limited EWHC 719 (Ch)

Random House, publisher of Dan Brown’s best-selling novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’, was cleared at the High Court in London on Friday 8 th April 2006 of infringing copyright after two rival authors had claimed their ideas had been stolen. The court held that Brown did not copy from an earlier work with similar story lines when writing his best selling book. The Claimantsauthors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh wrote ‘ The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail’ (HBHG) some twenty years earlier. The ruling also removes any doubt surrounding the release of film based on The Da Vinci Code film which is due in cinemas next month. Mr Justice Peter Smith said the concept that their book had a ‘central theme’ was “artificial” and had been created solely for the purposes of the legal action. This identified 15 key points which the claimants say Brown had copied and the Judge held that “accordingly there is no copyright infringement either by textual copying or non-textual copying of a substantial part of HBHG by means of copying the central themes”. He said “even if the central themes were copied they are too general and of too low a level of abstraction be capable of protection by copyright law” (emphasis added). Elsewhere in his judgment, Smith J did point out that a comparison of the language in both books did show that some of the text in DVC had been copied but added “However, this is not alleged to be a copyright infringement either so does not assist the claimants”. The court expressed concern that Brown’s wife, Blythe, had not been called to give evidence. Smith J said he believed she had not appeared because she could not back up her husband’s claims that he had only read HBHG late in the writing process. He said: “I conclude that her absence is explicable only on the basis that she would not support Mr Brown’s assertion as to the use made of HBHG and when that use occurred.” The judge went on: “There is significant other material which points inexorably to Blythe Brown having used HBHG extensively much earlier than Mr Brown admits. I do not accept that he necessarily knew that and I suspect this is the area of difficulty which has led to Blythe Brown not giving evidence.” However the judge was satisfied that Brown had not used HBHG to write his synopsis of DVC, replying on other material provided by his wife. The judge ordered that Baigent and Leigh pay 85 per cent of Random House’s costs, estimated at nearly £1.3 million. They will also have to pay their own legal costs and £350,000 must be paid to court as an interim payment by May 5 th. Leave to appeal was refused. But it’s not all bad news for the losers – sales of both books have rocketed because of publicity from the case. And its even better for Random House – they publish both books. But Random House and Brown may face further challenges: A Russian author, Dr Mikhail Anikin, claims Brown has drawn on his bookLeonardo da Vinci: Techology in paint written in 2000. He wants 50% of Brown’s royalties and an apology.

See Music Law Updates Archive April 2006

The Times 8 th April 2006