March 10, 2006

Verbal fireworks as Da Vinci Code case nears end

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Some heated verbal exchanges erupted on
Friday in the closing stages of "The Da Vinci Code" copyright
court case, in which two historians accuse author Dan Brown of
lifting their research wholesale in his bestseller.

Richard Leigh took to the witness box after more than three
days of painstaking cross examination of co-claimant Michael
Baigent, enlivening proceedings and saying all he had wanted
was proper acknowledgement from Brown in his novel.

Leigh could hardly have been more different than the
soft-spoken, professorial Baigent. In delivery he was clear and
aggressive, and instead of dark, sober suits he appeared in
court this week in a brown leather jacket and dark sunglasses.

Leigh and Baigent are co-authors of the 1982 historical
work "The Holy Blood, and the Holy Grail," and say Brown copied
their central themes in his religious thriller.

They are suing Brown's British publisher Random House in a
case that has attracted huge media attention, both because of
Brown's superstar status among writers and the potential
precedent the case could set should the historians succeed.

Brown, 41, has been in court for most of the hearings and
watched on Friday when Leigh was in the witness box. Brown is
expected to give evidence on Monday.


"If Mr. Brown had acknowledged Holy Blood, Holy Grail at
the opening of his book ... I question whether in fact we would
be here," Leigh told a packed courtroom.

After Leigh's cross-examination ended surprisingly quickly,
Judge Peter Smith closed the second week of the case by
pointing out that a character in The Da Vinci Code actually
refers to the 1982 book.

The name of the character, Sir Leigh Teabing, is in fact an
anagram of the names of the two claimants.

"In the first place it damns us with faint praise," said
Leigh, adding he found Teabing's reference to the book

Smith countered that an explanation for this may be that
Teabing was a patronising character in the book.

More importantly, said Leigh, was the fact that his and his
co-authors' names did not appear. A third author of Holy Blood,
Henry Lincoln, is not taking part in the action.

When it was suggested sales of Holy Blood had increased
sharply as a result of publicity surrounding the court case and
the huge interest generated by Brown's novel, Leigh said: "It
might also make me feel churlish for being here."

Once again much of the discussion centered round ancient
history and conjecture surrounding the blood-line of Jesus, the
real meaning of the elusive Holy Grail, the role of the
mysterious Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar.

The themes are common to both works, although Random
House's lawyer, John Baldwin, has sought to stress distinctions
between the books, the fact Brown drew on several sources not
one, and that the historians' work itself was not original.

Baldwin's tendency to pause before naming witnesses during
cross-examination prompted Leigh to interject: "Why do you keep
forgetting my name?"

When challenged by Baldwin over a point in his witness
statement, he countered angrily: "You are thinking I
deliberately lied?"

Last August, Brown won a court ruling against another
writer, Lewis Perdue, who alleged The Da Vinci Code copied
elements of two of his novels, "Daughter of God" and "The Da
Vinci Legacy."