More than two years after the first letter of complaint was lodged, the sensational trial, Baigent and Leigh vs Random House, came to judgement in London on April 7. But a whiff of a mystery still remains, fitting for the trial of Dan Brown’s thriller The Da Vinci Code, a book that takes conspiracy and deceit, arcane symbols and hidden codes as its raison d’être.
The court ruled against claimants Baigent and Leigh, who accused Brown of copying the ‘central theme’ and the ‘architectural edifice of ideas’ of their 1982 work Holy Blood, Holy Grail. But the trial was conducted without a key witness – Brown’s wife Blythe, credited as having done most of the crucial research.
As a result of their defeat, the claimants will have to cough up an estimated £2 million – including their own legal bills and 85% of those of the defendant in the case, The Da Vinci Code’s publisher, Random House.
The whole case was suspiciously ridiculous from the outset. Copyright protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself, and so it was no surprise to lawyers that the ruling came out in favour of Brown.
During the trial, both parties were exposed to a certain amount of ridicule. The presiding judge at the trial, Mr Justice Peter Smith, thought that Brown was hiding something, and noted that his ‘exhaustive research’ was largely done by his wife, on the basis of a handful of books. Meanwhile, Baigent and Leigh’s ‘central theme’ was so incoherent that Judge Smith wondered ‘if the Claimants do not know with certainty what their Central Theme is, how can anybody else possibly know?’
But it doesn’t take a two-year trial to expose the Code’s plots as thin, and its research base as dubious. Meanwhile both books have seen soaring sales. The timing of the hype will no doubt also favour the release of the new film of the Code, and Michael Baigent is just releasing his new book, The Jesus Papers.
The real winner seems to be Random House. Judge Smith noted, ‘By virtue of various mergers and acquisitions, Random House publishes both Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Da Vinci Code. It is a testament to cynicism in our times that there have been suggestions that this action is nothing more than a collaborative exercise designed to maximise publicity for both books.’
If they were after extra publicity, they have certainly got it. But whatever the submerged secrets of the case, it has been an entertaining piece of legal theatre. Laying aside Mr Brown’s more extravagant claims about the book opening debate and feeding spiritual dialogue (‘Much of the positive response comes from nuns’), the trial has certainly proved that everyone likes a good conspiracy. This one is likely to run for a good while yet.