Originally created 03/08/06

Author suing publisher admits exaggerating his claim



LONDON - An author suing the publishers of the mega-selling thriller "The Da Vinci Code" for alleged infringement of copyright told a British court Tuesday that he exaggerated his case in a witness statement before the trial.

The lawsuit filed against Random House by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," resumed at London's High Court on Tuesday after a weeklong break to give the judge time to read both books involved and related materials.

Baigent and Leigh accuse "The Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown of taking material for his blockbuster conspiracy thriller from their 1982 book. Brown's novel has sold more than 40 million copies, and a film version starring Tom Hanks and Ian McKellen is scheduled for a May 19 release.

If the writers succeed in securing an injunction to bar the use of their material, they could hold up the film's release.

Both books hinge on the theory that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and they had a child, and that blood line survives to this day. The earlier book set out the notion that Jesus did not die on the cross but lived later in France.

Baigent was first on the stand Tuesday. James Baldwin, a lawyer representing Random House, publisher of "The Da Vinci Code," asked Baigent about claims in his witness statement that 15 points central to the plot of Brown's book were taken from the earlier book.

Baigent relied on book reviews to back up his claim in the statement, given to the court before the trial started.

"That is simply false," Baldwin said, suggesting to Baigent that many of the book reviews did not discuss the central themes he claimed were copied from his work.

After a pause, Baigent responded: "In that case, you are correct... I think my language was infelicitous and I think I have to agree with you on that."

Brown is expected to testify later this week.

The case concerns the genesis of Brown's publishing phenomenon.

Lawyers for Random House have said ideas about the life and legacy of Jesus Christ are so general they are not protected by copyright.

Baigent and Leigh's lawyers say they were not attempting to claim a monopoly on ideas or historical debate but instead to prove Brown "relied heavily" on the earlier work, published in Britain in 1982 and then in the United States the following year.

The book's third author, Henry Lincoln, is not involved in the case. Lincoln, who is in his 70s and reportedly in poor health, could not be reached for comment.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Paul Sutton, refused to comment.

The case is being heard in the Royal Courts of Justice on The Strand, a short walk from the Temple Church, which figures in Brown's book. The church, founded by the Knights Templars, has reported an increase in visitor traffic inspired by "The Da Vinci Code."

Brown's book also was the target of a previous U.S. lawsuit. In 2005, a U.S. judge in New York ruled that his book did not infringe on the copyrights of "Daughter of God," by Lewis Perdue. The judge also ruled out any copyright violations of Perdue's 1983 novel "The Da Vinci Legacy."