Monday, February 27, 2006

Da Vinci Code 

I could also call this post "Holy Blood, Holy Crap!", but hey, I want to leave some seach-bait in the headlines, y'know?

The recent UK lawsuit over the book and soon to be movie The DaVinci Code is a very interesting conundrum. Personally, I'd like to see Holy Blood, Holy Grail authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh prevail in this case, because I read their book years ago, and they do make a very compelling case for their argument.

The premise behind both HBHG and TDC is that Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene had a child together. In the former, Jesus didn't die after the Crucifixion; in the latter he does. Either way, with the help of Joseph of Arimathea, the family (with or without Jesus) eventually winds up in France, and the blood line became the foundation of the Merovingian Dynasty. When King Dagobert was assassinated, the bloodline went underground, but the tradition was carried on through secret knowledge, hidden codes and the like, with male descendents of Jesus and Mary awaiting their restoration to the throne of France. The idea was that Jesus, as the Jewish Messiah, wasn't supposed to establish a spiritual kingdom. The idea was that he would come as a material liberator of the Jews, freeing them from Roman domination and re-establishing the Kingdom of Israel on Earth.

Now, Baigent and Leigh did a lot of research back in the 70s and 80s to uncover all the bits and pieces, and their ultimate argument is just as plausible as the mainstream version of the story, if not more so. (You know -- Occam's razor.) Dan Brown came along and cribbed their research for a fictional account -- and might have shot himself in the ass when he named his villain "Leigh Teabing." Brown denies having read HBHG, but re-arrange the letters of that last name and see what you get. Hint: he did read HBHG, despite his claim:
But Brown had said that the HBHG was not "crucial or important" to the creation of the central theme of his novel and when he wrote his synopsis, he had not even read it.
Yeah, uh... horseshit.

Again, I'd love to see Baigent and Leigh win just on principal, and wind up with a chunk of the Da Vinci Code phenom. However, I don't think they will, because they're walking into an interesting trap. That is, copyright decisions in the past have determined that you can't copyright a collection of facts, only the presentation. So, for example, something like The Book of Lists can copyright the way they arrange and compile information, so that I can't publish my own thing called The Book of Listings that differs little in presentation. However, I can come up with my own way of presenting the same factual information, say Weirdness A to Z.

And there's where Baigent and Leigh are going to have a hard time prosecuting their suit against Brown because, in essence, in order to prove copyright infringement, they're going to have to claim that HBHG is a literary work of their own creation. If they stick with the "true story" angle, then Brown has created his own unique presentation of facts, and so has not infringed.

Sad for Baigent and Leigh, I know. On the other hand, if they did win, the precedent set would have a chilling effect on authors who lean toward fact-based stories. Could a newspaper sue you because a scene in your latest movie was a fictionalized version of a Darwin Award-worthy article they originally printed? Would you be prevented from doing a novel about the life of Young Shakespeare because some academic somewhere already published the "definitive" biography?

So -- my two cents; morally, Bagient and Leigh deserve something from the Da Vinci train, but legally, they don't. And, two cents more: I'm rather anti-Da Vinci Code personally, not because I think its premise is blasphemy (quite the opposite), but rather because I've read the original several times, and it's just a better story.

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