3.21.2006

The DaVinci Code case in 50 words or less

Miss Snark,
This morning on the "Today" show , a reporter said something about how if the guys suing Dan Brown over their material maybe being ripped off in "The DaVinci Code" won their court case, it would "rock the publishing world." (That last bit sounds better if you read it in an ominous voiceover while show B-roll footage of stacks of the book in a major book store).

Of course, that's the where the story ended. So I'm wondering, just what kind of an impact would it have on publishing if Brown lost? Given the recent brouhaha about James Frey, does that make the Brown case any more significant?


In a nutshell it would mean you can sue for using non fiction 'facts' as the source of a novel. If someone wrote a book explaining Miss Snark is the bee's knees, and you wrote a novel about a literary agent with beeswax kneecaps, you'd be vulnerable. Doesn't take even an ominous Today show voiceover to make that sound scary.

The Frey case is a totally separate legal issue. And publishing is always having fun like this. It's like a more expensive version of croquet...lots of ball whacking, sticky wickets, and people standing around pining for the good old days when no one whacked you out of bounds.

13 comments:

Maya said...

I've been following this case with interest. Brown readily admits he read "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" before publishing "The DaVinci Code," and acknowledges he even used an anagram of the suing authors' names to create a character's name in a sort of tribute to them. However, he also says he used between 30-38 other reference books in researching his novel. Reference books that included many of the same themes.

News reports seem to indicate that that authors sued in Britain because they thought they'd have a better chance of winning there than in the U.S. In his remarks on Monday, the judge did not seem very sympathetic to the plaintiffs who apparently (according to news services) exaggerated their claims to enhance their suit.

Mark said...

Not quite. The judge told Brown he was lying. Copyright ideas is sure new if it holds. Brown did more copying than that from others too.

BitchySmurf said...

I think the Holy Blood, Holy Grail guys are just pissed because their book really is FICTION (as in, pulled out of their ass) and now Dan Brown's the one makin' a fortune.

'Course that don't change the fact that it was published as nonfiction so they can't go cryin' about it now. I'll eat my shoe if they win this thing. Even in the UK where copyright laws are tougher, it's ridiculous.

Debra Kemp said...

Sticky wickets are in cricket, not croquet!

grin!

Can't quite see why the HB, HG guys are complaining about all the extra publicity their book got from this. Especially when their book was based on a hoax that has been affirmed as a hoax!! It isn't even proven history.

vxanqsl seems rather reminiscent of a feminin product, wouldn't you say? A breath of fresh air?

Stijn Hommes said...

They claim their book is non-fiction and that Brown ripped of their ideas. Ideas (especially when presented as facts) are not copyrightable and fiction authors are free to use facts to enhance their books.

If they win this case, I'll protest until Brown wins the appeal. I just hope the judge isn't entirely clueless on copyright law as so many people are these days.

Maggie said...

Less flamingos, though.

I.J.Parker said...

I would agree that in this case the "nonfiction 'facts'" are not facts at all, no matter how many people have theorized about this tantalizing tale.
I also agree that all this publicity powers sales of all the books connected with the case. And don't Brown and the plaintiffs have the same publisher? A publisher who reaps huge benefits from the publicity? And therefore can't lose either way?

srchamberlain said...

The best part is that in the year before The DaVinci Code was published, Holy Blood, Holy Grail sold about a thousand copies. Then, thanks to the popularity of The DaVinci Code, it sold 100,000 copies.

Now that's gratitude. Those men should be getting down on their knees every morning and thanking Dog that Dan Brown "stole" their ideas.

Anonymous said...

In response to srchamberlain, Holy Blood, Holy Grail was first published 20 or so years ago and was a multinational bestseller - the fact that it was still selling 1,000 copies a year before The Da Vinci Code came out is kinda impressive given it's such a niche field (in my opinion, anyway).

Personally, I think this was an outrageous case to bring (given that it amounts to claiming copyright in an idea rather than an expression), but the reason it was brought in the UK was more to do with the James Herbet/Spear of Destiny case (I think from 1982/1983) which gave some recognition for claiming copyright in ideas that could be associated clearly with one particular author. I think though that that case involved two definite works of fiction (rather than fiction versus quasi history/historical theory as this case would have it).

Dan Brown certainly seemed to have a dodgy memory when it came to working out the timing of his research and for someone who relied so heavily on his wife to help him research the book, it seemed a bit strange that she wasn't put on the stand to back up his story. Nevertheless, I'd be surprised if he lost it, mainly because I think the plaintiffs shot themselves in the foot numerous times under cross-examination.

kathie said...

If these clowns win this suit, all you court-room drama writers, detective writers, and anyone trying to inject any authenticity into their novels (including me) will have to just make crap up. Your main character's a dermatologist? Better invent new skin cancers and treaments. Hell better invent new jobs and lifestyles. These guys keep saying their ideas were stolen. Can't steal ideas. Isn't that copyright 101?

sfchamberlain said...

In response to anonymous: Maybe. But 100,000 in 2004 is a heck of a lot better than 1000 in 2004, not to mention whatever HB, HG is going to make in the future off the continuing fascination (however misplaced) in The DaVinci Code.

I think the possibility that these two are suing as a way to drum up some more publicity can't be ignored.

Bernita said...

Holy Blood and the Holy Grail was first published in 1982 by Jonathan Cape.
Cape reprinted it 3 times in '82
Corgi edition published 1983.

The Corgi edition has 12 pages of bibliography and 35 pages of notes and references.
I have the feeling the suit arose out a genuine - if misplaced - sense that their work was ripped-off.

Mark said...

As with Lewis Perdue's books Brown copied fake facts, which is the original expression of the author, not a matter of real history. That's the difference. Fictional history is not a protected fact.