Da Vinci Code win for Dan Brown

Copyright claim dismissed by the High Court

The copyright infringement claim made against the publishers of the Da Vinci Code has been dismissed by the High Court today.

The claim was brought by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of the 1982 book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail against publisher Random House.

Both books explored the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child and that their bloodline survives to this day. Mr Baigent and Mr Leigh claimed that Dan Brown had copied their book’s “central theme”.

But the judge, Mr Justice Peter Smith, ruled The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail did not have a central theme in the way its authors suggested. “It was an artificial creation for the purposes of the litigation working back from the Da Vinci Code,” he said.

The court found that Dan Brown did use the previous book to write certain parts of his thriller but did not substantially copy their work. The Judge was critical, however, of the Defendant’s failure to call Dan Brown’s wife, Blythe Brown, as a witness. He also criticised Dan Brown’s evidence in parts but added: This judgment should have no impact on Mr Brown’s reputation as a thriller writer. Mr Brown should not be denigrated because of the adverse findings I have made against him in respect of some aspects of his evidence.

Random House chief executive Gail Rebuck welcomed the judgment, saying: “We are pleased that justice – and common sense – have prevailed.”

After the judgment, Mr Leigh said: “I think by its very nature, this case entailed a conflict between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. We lost on the letter of the law, I think we won on the spirit of the law, and to that extent we feel vindicated.”  

The ruling clears the way for the Da Vinci Code movie’s release in May. There had been fears that the film version of the book, starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, could be delayed if the ruling went against Mr Brown.

Mr Baigent and Mr Leigh were ordered to pay 85% of Random House’s costs of almost £1.3m with an interim payment of £350,000 by 5 May. The Judge also refused the authors permission to appeal.

Click here for the 5RB case report and full judgment.