01 April 2007

Baigent/Leigh lose their appeal

On Wedesday, the UK's court of appeals upheld a trial court ruling last year against Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. These are the author of non-fiction (but quite speculative) works on the life of Jesus and the history of Christianity.

Dan Brown, author of the phenomenally successful (but poorly written) novel the Da Vinci Code, acknowledged that much of that book was a simple novelization of the Baigent/Leigh theories. That was never in question. The problem for the plaintiffs is that they have no intellectual property in the ideas they espoused, only in the words they used to espouse them.

And Dan Brown seems to be able to do his own bad writing without lifting there.

Nominally, at least, the defendant in this case wasn't Brown himself but his publisher, Random House, which put out a statement after the appeals court's judgment this week, saying the case was a tremendous waste of time and money.

"Misguided claims like the one that we have faced, and the appeal, are not good for authors, and not good for publishers," it said. "But we are glad that the Court of Appeal has upheld the original judgment and that, once again, common sense and justice have prevailed, helping to ensure the future of creative writing in the UK."

Yet the claimant's lawyer, Jonathan Rayner James, doesn't seem to have given up the fight entirely even now. He said at a hearing earlier this year that issues still remain (i.e. another lawsuit may be launched) concerning the role of Brown's wife, who did much of the research.

A few words of wisdom from Kenny Rogers might be of value to Mr. Rayner James. Sometimes you gotta know when to fold 'em.

Lord Justice Bernard Rix made the point that Brown never disguised the nove's use of the Baigent and Leigh work. In fact, he works it into the book. Much of the expository material in the book is put into the mouth of a character called Leigh Teabing, an anagram of "Leigh Baigent." Teabing refers to the best-known book of those collaborators, "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," callin it "perhaps the best known tome" on the subject.

"That is not the mark of an author who thought that he was making illegitimate use of the fruits of someone else's literary labors, but of one who intended to acknowledge a debt of ideas, which he has gone on to express in his own way and for his own purposes," said Justice Rix.

Good point.

So why am I rehashing all this? It simply seemed an appropriate way to start Holy Week.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.