'Da Vinci Code' Author Testifies in Plagiarism Suit
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In London's high court today, Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown took the stand for the first time to defend his work and his reputation. Two British authors, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, are suing THE DA VINCI CODE publisher, Random House, for copyright infringement. They claim Brown, an American, stole the central theme for his religious thriller from their 1982 book, THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL. Both books explore the controversial theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and produced a child whose bloodlines survive to this day. Since the court case began, both books have been flying off the shelves here and abroad.
Katherine Rushton is a reporter from Book Seller Magazine. She was at the court today when Dan Brown took the stand, and she joins us now. Katherine, Dan Brown has been sitting in this courtroom watching all this. He finally got a chance to speak for himself. What did he say?
Ms. KATHERINE RUSTON (Reporter, Book Seller Magazine): Well, he defended his claim. He says that in actual fact he didn't look at THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL until very late on in writing his novel, and he says he still hasn't read the whole book.
NORRIS: But the book itself, his heavily annotated version of this book, has been, a sort of key piece of evidence in this trial.
Ms. RUSTON: The defense claims that actually Dan Brown's wife, Blythe, annotated the book after THE DA VINCI CODE became a best seller, basically to help Dan onto his critics, who sort of accused him of slamming the church, and that sort of thing.
NORRIS: Now Dan Brown is known as a recluse. He doesn't speak to the media, he's not someone who really likes to go out and sell his own work. How did he conduct himself on the stand?
Ms. RUSTON: Well he looked a bit nervous. He had ditched his tweed jacket and the black polo necks, the beloved of the lead character in THE DA VINCI CODE, Robert Langdon, and instead he was wearing a sober suit and a tie. But he was playful with the courtroom. He, you know, at times he was laughing and even cracking mild jokes. And he was even signing books outside, so he appeared fairly relaxed.
NORRIS: What's the scene in the courtroom like?
Ms. RUSHTON: Well, I mean, it's a small courtroom, it's a modern courtroom. It's packed to the gills. You had journalists fighting over chairs today. There are a lot of authors of similar conspiracy theory books also crammed in there. Just so eager to hear of Mary Magdalene and so on being discussed in a courtroom, and the judge, a large guy with this sort of big black walrus mustache, and he likes, he speaks very gently and inserts his own jokes, and he knows the subject as well. He'll correct both, well, all the authors, on dates if he thinks they've got them wrong.
NORRIS: So all of you covering this, do all of you have your dog-eared copies of THE DA VINCI CODE with you in the courtroom?
Ms. RUSHTON: Yeah, there have been very many dog-eared copies of THE DA VINCI VODE, and HOLY BLOOD HOLY GRAIL, and in fact I've spotted a few copies of Sudaku and things sandwiched in between for the drier parts.
NORRIS: You mean people are doing the puzzle during the court proceedings?
Ms. RUSHTON: Absolutely. There have been great big debates about, sort of, particular dates or particular central theme points which could get a little dry at times.
NORRIS: Now there's an interesting piece of information here also. The authors, Baigent and Leigh, are suing Random House. Random House also published their books, so they're suing their own publisher.
Ms. RUSTON: Yes. Which makes things rather awkward, I presume, if they want to bring out a new book with them. But it's interesting because Random House, since DA VINCI's success, has brought out, in the UK, a new illustrated version of their book, and they'd be making a lot of money on that.
NORRIS: Well, you talk about sales, although it's some time before we actually hear a verdict in this case, for now, at least in terms of sales, it seems that everybody's a winner. All these books are selling.
Ms. RUSHTON: They're soaring. Sales are soaring. THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL in particular, I mean, that's, you know, it was registering before, now its right near the top of the charts. And THE DA VINCI CODE has just pushed past the four million mark here, which is huge.
NORRIS: And we should say this is coming out right before the movie is released this summer.
Ms. RUSTON: Yes, nice timing. I think that, you know, excitement around Dan Brown here has reached fever pitch, but it's going to climb still.
NORRIS: Katherine Rushton, thanks so much for talking to us.
Ms. RUSHTON: No problem.
NORRIS: Katherine Rushton is a reporter for Book Seller magazine.
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