Stolen Piffle

Over and above the Guardian’s ill-advisedly denominating Leigh and Baignent “historians” (they’re historians in the same sense in which Lyndon Larouche is a politician), I’m intrigued and appalled at the news that the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail are suing Dan “All Facts!” Brown for stealing their ideas for his jigga-zillion-selling The da Vinci Code.

Last I checked, you couldn’t copyright “ideas,” least of all if they’re factually true. Moreover, the Brown book has revived interest in a theory that had fallen into well-deserved obscurity; if anything, Brown has helped their sales. I can only imagine that this is a publicity maneuver, the ludicrousness of which is beside the point.

But if the case signifies that HB,HG really is a work of fiction, then I suppose they could sue Brown, perhaps effectively (though their having represented it as history at the outset would hamper their case).

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3 Responses to Stolen Piffle

  1. There’s a reason why the suit was filed in the UK–it would never fly in the US just for the reasons that you mentions.

    In the UK, however, there’s supposedly a legal theory of “misappropriation of work product” or some such (I am not a UK attorney) that is the basis of the suit. I don’t know about that law to intelligently comment on the merits of the case.

    From a policy standpoint, however, it is clear that the Holy Blood authors are not content with the fact that the Da Vinci Code put their book back on the best seller list–they want a piece of the Brown’s action. Every time there is a runaway success in the literary world, scores of people come out of the woodwork seeking a piece of the action. Malleable copyright doctrines (in this in the UK, not the US) only encourages it. I’m glad the US got the policy right in this example.

  2. A similar set of facts has already been litigated in the U.S. In Hoehling v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 618 F.2d 972 (2d Cir. 1980), the plaintiff, an historian of the Hindenburg disaster, sued a movie studio for basing a movie on his theory that the explosion was caused by the sabotage of a particular crew member. Hoehling lost because historical interpretation is not covered by copyright.

  3. Samantha Me says:

    I’m confused. Why isn’t it possible that two separate authors out of thousands, perhaps millions came up with the same idea from the similar evidence they read… I do not see how you cannot agree that this is possible. My mother even told stories to us about the similar idea presented in “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” as well as “The DaVinci Code,” so now my mother must have stolen her idea from either of you… it’s ridiculous!

    I have spent the last 4 years writing my own book based on the stories my parents told us all our lives… and disappointedly I am working with an editor to change parts of it because heaven forbid you come after me next! And it’s unfair because I had never heard my mother’s stories from anyone but herself until this whole law suit came up in the news.

    Get a life… just because someone wrote a book that is making more money than yours, doesn’t mean they stole the idea from YOU!

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