The Da Vinci Code Case – Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh v Dan Brown

It is a fact that the claimants' book sales have benefited from The Da Vinci Code (and this litigation). -- Mr Justice Peter Smith

I think by its very nature, this case entailed a conflict between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. We lost on the letter of the law, I think we won on the spirit of the law, and to that extent we feel vindicated. -- Richard Leigh

After devoting so much time and energy to this case, I'm eager to get back to writing my new novel. -- Dan Brown

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. It is true that the book sales of both books have soared during the course of the trial. -- Mr Justice Peter Smith

Copies of the books at the centre of the case The case of the century involving the best selling book The Da Vinci Code.

The Da Vinci Code Case – Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh v Dan Brown: On the one side Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh co-authors with Henry Lincoln of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (Henry Lincoln was not party to the case), on the other side Dan Brown author of the best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code. Strictly speaking the case was against Random House, ironically the publisher of both books. But in essence the case was Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh versus Dan Brown.

Dan Brown stood accused of plagiarism, breach of copyright, for stealing the ideas contained in The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

It is difficult to see how the case got as far as it did. Were The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail a work of fiction (as it is seen by many), then Dan Brown could have stood accused of rewriting their work, had Dan Brown passed off The Da Vinci Code as original historic research, he could have stood accused of plagiarism. But as it did he did neither, he wrote a novel based on historical research.

Were the views of Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh to prevail, no-one could write a novel based on any research, let alone historical research.

Mr Justice Peter Smith gave a long and detailed judgement on the case, Court artist Elizabeth Cook's impression of Mr Justice Peter Smith giving his judgement This was the view of the judge, and in his summing up, gave the authors short-shrift. He seems as amazed as anyone that they brought the case.

Richard Leigh stood outside the court claiming that they may not have won on the letter of the law, but did so on the spirit, although it hard to see how they came to this conclusion.

During the closing week of the trial BBC Radio 4 broadcast three extracts from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. Listening to these readings, it is easy to see that Dan Brown drew heavily on the work ....

plot spoiler – do not read further if you have not read the book

.... that the Holy Grail is not a vessel, or rather is a vessel, but a very special vessel, The Mary Magdalene, that she married Jesus, that she escaped from the Holy Land with her children, that these formed a Holy Blood Line in France, this can be interpreted from how one divides the Old French words San gréal or Sang réal, the first being Holy Grail, the latter Royal Blood, the Priory of Sion being an inner circle inside the Knights Templar established to protect this bloodline, famous names being Grand Masters, hidden wealth in an obscure part of France, links with churches dedicated to Mary Magdalene and so on.

On top of this, Dan Brown weaves his magic as a story teller, the modern day Grand Masters, the hunt by our heroes, the clues left by Leonardo Da Vinci and so on.

Curiously, Dan Brown denies being influenced by The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, having only given it a cursory glance, then having put it down as impossible to read.

Why then do we find an anagram of the authors as one of the characters in The Da Vinci Code, even more important, the character who outlines the background highlighted above?

Sir Leigh Teabing is an anagram of Baigent and Leigh.

Did Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh fabricate the entire story, in other words it was a work of fiction, hence their annoyance that someone else has a runaway success with 'their' novel? According to an entry in Wikipedia, 'years later one of the authors openly admitted to the press that the entire story had been invented' (no reference given). Is this why Dan Brown has as his villain, Sir Leigh Teabing, an anagram of Baigent and Leigh? Henry Lincoln, the third author of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, was remarkably cagey in backing the 'facts' in the book when interviewed on BBC Radio 4, and was not a party to the litigation in the High Court in London.

There is is no mention in The Da Vinci Code of the 'mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau', the first extract broadcast on BBC Radio 4, although curiously, why use the surname Sauniere?

The judge was not impressed, and gave Dan Brown short shrift.

There were exchanges in October about why Mr Brown chose the surname Sauniere and why he chose the surname Teabing. The latter is not particularly mysterious: it is part of an anagram of the two Claimants' names.

It is self evident that Mr Brown looked at The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail before The Da Vinci Code was finished - he accepts that.

It is equally self evident that Blythe Brown looked at it extensively.

The original copy as disclosed contains numerous annotations and markings mostly by her, but also by Mr Brown. Of all the books used it is the most heavily annotated.

I have already observed the anagram in the name Teabing as being another example of how The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail was clearly in the mind of Mr Brown when he finalised his book.

Dan Brown enjoys the use of cryptic clues. The Da Vinci Code contains far more cryptic clues than are found by are heroes. Baigent and Leigh being hidden in the name of Sir Leigh Teabing is but one of many such examples. [see Secrets of the Code edited by Dan Burstein]

The court statement made by Dan Brown is believed to contains cryptic clues of the next novel.

The irony is, that it was only through the publication of a special illustrated edition of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, that Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh could raise the money to bring the case, it is only due to the success of The Da Vinci Code, that sales have soared of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

There is even a theory circulating that the whole thing was a massive publicity stunt cooked up to give publicity to both books which are slipping out of the best seller lists, and as part of the worldwide publicity leading up to the release of the film The Da Vinci Code co-starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou due for release on 19 May 2006.

Commenting on this the Judge was of the view:

I am not in a position to comment on whether this cynical view is correct, but I would say that if it was such a collaborative exercise Mr Baigent and Mr Brown both went through an extensive ordeal in cross-examination which they are likely to remember for some time.

Absent from the case was Blythe Brown (wife of Dan Brown), who had done much of the research for The Da Vinci Code.

The claimants Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh were refused leave to appeal.

The claimants' legal costs are around £800,000, but the judge ruled that in addition they have to pay 85% of the defence’s £1.2 million costs. Worse still for the claimants is that they are required to make a £350,000 interim payment by 5 May 2006.

What may have prompted the case was the fear that with the showing of The Da Vinci Code at Cannes in May, it scuppers their chance of a film of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Both the The Da Vinci Code and The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail have generated great controversy, and yet none of the authors expected or anticipated the controversy that followed publication.

Mr Justice Peter Smith:

Somewhat surprisingly in my view both sets of authors were apparently surprised at the storm of controversy that their books created. This can only be naivety if true.

I cannot believe that if books are going to be written which challenge vital tenets of the established church that they are not going to attract attention.

Mr Justice Smith had the last laugh. Embedded in his judgment was his own secret code, beginning 'Smithy Code ...'. [see Judge creates own Da Vinci code]

At first, Mr Justice Smith refused to confirm or deny that he had indeed embedded a secret message in his judgment, but did finally confirm that the uncovered message was correct. [see Judge's own Da Vinci code cracked]

Synchronicity: One of the subplots within The Da Vinci Code is the gospels that were and were not included in the New Testament. One of those not included was The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Coincidental with the court ruling came the publication of The Gospel of Judas, one of many gospels not included in the New Testament.

The established Christian Church was not having any easy time.

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail explores the theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, that they had children who grew up in France and that their descendants married into the early Merovingian kings of France. They speculate that the bloodline continues to this day, that a secret society, the Priory of Sion, passes on the secret to a select few each generation while the Roman Catholic Church suppresses the truth. The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail also suggests that the Crucifixion was faked with Pontius Pilate’s connivance and that Jesus escaped with his family to the South of France. They suggest that the Holy Grail is Christ’s bloodline. The writers suggest that the book, a bestseller in 1982, is “historical conjecture”.

Interviewed on BBC Radio 4 (following the reading of three extracts), the third author Henry Lincoln (who was not party to the case), seemed to distance himself from the contents of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, saying that he was only reporting what other people believed to be fact.

The Da Vinci Code bases its plot on the same theory that Christ’s bloodline still survives, but Dan Brown does not go so far as to suggest that Christ escaped the Crucifixion. The author, a Christian, has said that such conjecture undermines the whole foundation of the Christian religion. There are also numerous other interweaved subplots bringing in Leonardo Da Vinci, clues in his paintings, clues in buildings, encryption, public key encryption, and so on.

Dan Brown drew heavily on The Templar of Revelation by Lyn Picknett and Clive Prince. Far from griping, even less mounting High Court action for plagiarism, the authors were only too happy with the attention and extra sales The Da Vinci Code brought. Their only regret was that Dan Brown got all the glory not they.

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh also lost on appeal. Having lost the first time around, it seems odd that they should have gone to appeal, unless they were hoping for yet more publicity, but if so, they failed miserably. [see Da Vinci Code appeal is dismissed]

Curiously, a friend had raised The Da Vinci Code and the extremely odd litigation only a couple of weeks before the case was lost. Equally curiously, the day the appeal was lost, I was walking along a road and saw a book on a wall that was asking to be picked up. It was a BookCrossing book, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. [see BCID 4232682]

I knew The Bourne Identity was a film, but did not know it was also a novel, even less that it was written by Robert Ludlum. A friend once mentioned the film, but it all sounded pretty boring, and the friend he was telling was even less interested. I wanted something to read to while away the hours, and a book drops into my hands!

Books Worth Reading ~ The Da Vinci Code
(c) Keith Parkins 2006-2007 -- April 2007 rev 2