Dan Brown wins ‘Da Vinci’ battle

Judge dismisses claims he stole ideas from an earlier book

LONDON, England (CNN) — A British judge has finally cracked the “Da Vinci Code,” rejecting claims that U.S. author Dan Brown stole the ideas of two historians to produce his hugely popular novel.

High Court judge Peter Smith threw out a copyright-infringement claim by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who said Brown’s blockbuster ripped off their 1982 book, “Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”

Brown welcomed the verdict, saying he was to amazed the case had ever been brought to court.

“Today’s verdict shows that this claim was utterly without merit,” Brown said in a statement.

“I’m pleased with today’s outcome, not only from a personal standpoint but also as a novelist,” he said, adding that he was eager to return to writing.

Smith denied Baigent and Leigh leave to appeal and ordered them to pay 85 percent of Random House’s legal costs, which could top 1 million pounds (US$1.75 million).

Random House published both Brown’s and the two historians’ books.

The financial blow is likely to be softened by the fact that the previously obscure “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” has been flying off bookshelves since the case began.

Brown’s book had already emerged as one of the most successful novels of all time, selling more than 40 million copies since it was released in March 2003.

Random House chief executive Gail Rebuck said her company welcome the judgment.

“We are pleased that justice – and common sense – have prevailed. It is highly unusual and very sad that these authors chose to sue their publishers, especially after 20 successful years,” she said in a statement.

The trial centered around allegations that Brown ripped off a key theory from their book — that Jesus survived his crucifixion, married Mary Magdalene, and had children — a controversial storyline that has intrigued readers.

Brown told the court the claim that he “hijacked and exploited their work is simply untrue.”

The judge agreed, giving short shrift to Brown’s accusers.

“It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC (Da Vinci Code) has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright,” Smith said in his ruling. (Read the Da Vinci judgmentexternal link)

Lawyers for Baigent and Leigh said there was “no credible explanation” as to how Brown crafted his story, except that he copied it from the “The Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”

Brown has said that he and his wife, Blythe, read “The Holy Blood, the Holy Grail” while researching the book, Reuters said. They also read 38 other books and hundreds of documents.

“Da Vinci” might draw on history, but in the end the book is all made up and that could be its best defense.

The movie of the book, starring Tom Hanks, is shot and ready to go in May, with five million new paperback copies headed to bookstores.

Friday’s ruling removed a potential obstacle to the movie’s release.

CNN’s Paula Newton contributed to this report.

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Apr. 7, 2006

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