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Friday, April 07, 2006

Da Vinci - veni, vidi, vici

A British court has ruled that Dan Brown did not violate the copyright of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" in writing "The Da Vinci Code," a book some of you may have heard of. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of "Holy Blood," had claimed that Brown "appropriated the architecture" of their book and had sought an injunction against both the book and the upcoming movie. According to the LA Times, Judge Peter Smith held that
"Even if the central themes were copied, they are too general, or of too low a level of abstraction to be capable of protection by copyright law."
I have no doubt that the court's ruling was correct, even by the stringent standard of British copyright law. But lost in all this is the irrefutable fact that the central theme of "Da Vinci" - that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married and had children, and that the Holy Grail refers to their line of descendants - was, in fact, ripped off, stolen, borrowed, or whatever term of art you want to use, from "Holy Blood, Holy Grail."

I remember reading "Da Vinci" when it first came out, before anyone had really heard of it, and thinking that large parts of it seemed really familiar. And when Brown himself mentioned "Holy Blood" about halfway through the book, I had an "aha!" moment: I had, in fact, read "Holy Blood" many, many years before and it was sitting on my bookshelf. I started thumbing through it, and it seemed like it was all there - the bloodline of Jesus, the Priory of Sion, the Merovingians, etc. And I remember thinking, "man, this guy lifted this whole book."

Baigent and Leigh's problem may be that they presented their book as non-fiction. Had they labelled it fiction (which would've been more accurate anyway), I wonder if Brown would've been legally able to write "The Da Vinci Code." Maybe he would have - I'm certainly no expert on copyright law. But I suspect at the very least he would've had a harder time proving his case.

I've got nothing against Dan Brown and I think "The Da Vinci Code" is a great read. (Although I do hold him responsible for the rash of similarly themed books that have come out since, some of which are good, but many of which are absolutely awful. Yes,I'm talking to you, Steve Berry.) And the silly thing about this lawsuit is that Baigent and Leigh should be on their knees genuflecting before Brown for all the money he must be making them. While "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" was a bestseller when it was originally released, I can only imagine how many copies have been sold in the past couple years because of "The Da Vinci Code."

Those of you that want to read a far superior book with somewhat similar subject matter should check out Theodore Roszak's novel, "Flicker.""Flicker" is billed as a "secret history of movies," and ties together the invention of moving pictures with an ancient Gnostic heresy. After being out of print for awhile, it's recently been reissued to capitalize on the fact that Darren Aronofsky (writer-director of "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream") is adapting it for the big screen.

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