Monday, February 27, 2006

Maybe It Was Fiction Too

I realize that sometimes it seems like I am obsessed with The DaVinci Code. True, I did enjoy the fast-paced story and the radical take on history. But I also like how the story itself creates some really dramatic news items.

This time though, I am not going to editorialize on the latest news, mostly because I don’t really understand it. Apparently, the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail are suing Dan Brown for stealing their ideas. In their book, authors Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln claim that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion and moved to France with Mary Magdaline to start a new blood line. The secret is protected by a group that calls itself the Priory of Sion. This might sound familiar because Brown did use some of these elements in his book (except the idea that Jesus survived).

What I don’t understand though is how authors of a supposedly non-fiction book can sue a fictional author for copyright infringement. The characters in Dan Brown’s book mention both Holy Blood, Holy Grail, as well as The Templar Revelation, as sources for their belief that Jesus fathered a child. But if these books are supposed to be treated as serious historical works, I cannot see how they can object when their findings are treated as factual by characters in a work of fiction.

Either there is something I don’t understand about copyright law, or two of the authors (one is not participating in the lawsuit) are just trying to capitalize on the success of Dan Brown's book and the Ron Howard movie due out this May.

Update: Here is how the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail describe their book: In addition, the plaintiffs say, their book is not "a historical account of facts and it does not purport to be such," but is, rather, "a book of historical conjecture setting out the authors' hypotheses" — and thus protected by copyright. I am sorry, but that is a bunch of nonsense. Brown's publisher (also Holy Blood, Holy Grail's publisher) is defending The DaVinci Code and is particularly worried about how a decision against Brown could affect similar novelists like Michael Crichton that rely on the original research of other authors.