- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

LONDON — A judge ruled yesterday that mega-selling author Dan Brown did not steal ideas for “The Da Vinci Code” from a nonfiction work, ending the suspense about the case with an ultimately unsurprising decision.

High Court Judge Peter Smith rejected a copyright-infringement claim by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,” who claimed Mr. Brown’s blockbuster “appropriated the architecture” of their 1982 book. In the United States, the book is titled, “Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”

The ruling will allow a film based on “The Da Vinci Code” and starring Tom Hanks to open as scheduled on May 19.

Judge Smith said the plaintiffs, who must pay publisher Random House’s estimated seven-figure legal bill, had based their copying claim on a “selective number of facts and ideas artificially taken out of [the book] for the purpose of the litigation.”

“It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way [‘The Da Vinci Code’] has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright,” Judge Smith said in his 71-page ruling.

Mr. Brown said he was pleased by the ruling “not only from a personal standpoint but also as a novelist. [The] verdict shows that this claim was utterly without merit.”

Both books explore theories that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, the couple had a child and the bloodline survives. Most historians and theologians scoff at such ideas, but Mr. Brown’s fast-paced mix of murder, mysticism, code-breaking and art history has won millions of fans.

“The Da Vinci Code” has sold more than 40 million copies — including 12 million hardcovers in the United States — since it was released in March 2003. It came out in paperback in the United States last week and quickly sold more than 500,000 copies, an astonishing pace for a paperback release. An initial print run of 5 million has already been raised to 6 million.

The case drew a crowd of journalists, Mr. Brown’s fans and theological revisionists to London’s neo-Gothic High Court last month. The publicity-shy Mr. Brown traveled from New Hampshire to testify on behalf of his publisher, and spent three days on the stand.

Mr. Leigh was defiant.

“We lost on the letter of the law. I think we won on the spirit of the law. To that extent we feel vindicated,” he said, without elaborating.

Judge Smith refused the plaintiffs permission to appeal and ordered Mr. Baigent and Mr. Leigh to pay 85 percent of Random House’s legal costs, which lawyers said could top $1.75 million. He ordered the plaintiffs to make an interim payment of $600,000 by the end of the month.

The case, however, helped Mr. Baigent and Mr. Leigh in another way. Their 24-year-old book is selling 7,000 copies a week in Britain, compared with a few hundred before the case began. Mr. Baigent’s new book, “The Jesus Papers: Exposing the Greatest Cover-Up in History,” has an initial print run of 150,000 copies in the United States.

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