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Da Vinci Code on trial — again

Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown took to the stand yesterday as the star defence witness in a copyright infringement lawsuit being launched against his publisher, Random House. The claimants this time around are Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent, two of the three authors of a book called The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which hypothesized that Jesus Christ survived crucifixion and went on to father children with Mary Magdalene and that a secret society in France is currently involved in attempting to reinstate Christ’s descendants into political power.

That Brown was aware of the book is doubtless: Brown’s tattered and heavily marked copy of the book was submitted as court evidence; the author even named a character Leigh Teabing, an anagram of the claimants’ last names. Yet according to an article on the Times Online, because they’re suing to compensate for lost revenue, Baigent and Leigh’s lawsuit is unlikely to win them much, even if they prevail. On the first day of the case, Amazon sales for The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail shot up 3500%. (On Tuesday afternoon, the book was the 18th best-seller on Amazon.com.)

And if Baigent and Leigh do win, it might change the nature of copyright law as we know it. The authors are not contesting individual passages of Brown’s book so much as its entire premise. “The legal maxim that ‘there is no copyright in an idea’ is being tested,” writes Alex Wade of the Times, “just as, in televisual media, there have been successive attempts to claim format rights in reality television shows.” When one considers the extent to which writers reinterpret, recontextualize, and otherwise borrow the material of other writers, a successful lawsuit could mean much in the world of books.

An interesting result of this whole mess is that those intrigued by biographical details can now learn a lot about Brown: his writing process, the fact that his wife researches most of his books, that they used to sell books from the back of their car, and that one point in Brown’s career ebb saw him write and sell a story under the pseudonym Danielle Brown called “187 Men to Avoid.”

Related links:
Click here for the Times story
Click here for the Book Standard’s take on events
Click here for trial coverage from The New York Times
Click here for a story on The Guardian website