In a ruling today on the lawsuit raised against Dan Brown, Justice Peter Smith declared that Dan Brown did not steal the "central theme" of Holy Blood, Holy Grail from authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh when he wrote The Da Vinci Code. According to the New York Times article:
Justice Smith also added:
In issuing his opinion, Justice Peter Smith said Mr. Brown had indeed relied on the earlier work, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," in writing a section of "The Da Vinci Code." But he said two of the authors of "Holy Blood," Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, had failed in their effort to prove that Mr. Brown had stolen their "central theme" because they could not accurately state what that theme was.
"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."
Excellent news for fiction writers, indeed. Can you imagine what the publishing world would be like if every writer of historical fiction were sued by the authors of their sources? Who could write a novelization of Abraham Lincoln's childhood for children's libraries if they risked being sued by Lincoln's biographers? Could Michael Crichton be sued by scientists because he "stole" their ideas about genetics when he wrote Jurassic Park? Will lawyers go after John Grisham because he used the "architecture" of their profession in his novels?
Baigent and Leigh have a case only if they wish to declare their book as fiction -- and given their slightly dubious sources, some have wondered if that might not be the case, at least in part. Brown did use their claim that Mary Magdalene was the true "Holy Grail" as the central element of the mystery that runs through The Da Vinci Code. But a concept does not make a plot, nor does it define the central theme of a work of nonfiction. It was one interesting almost-fact that Brown decided to make factual in his fictional world.
Perhaps the members of Monty Python should raise a lawsuit against Baigent and Leigh for writing a book about the Holy Grail. After all, the Monty Python team did film their farce, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, long before Baigent and Leigh wrote their book.