Mr Brown and His Code
Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else. - Leonardo da Vinci
I confess. I'm totally ill-equipped to comment on the case currently being fought out in the High Court between Mr Dan Brown – very rich author of The Da Vinci Code - and the plaintiffs, Richard Leigh and Michael Biagent – who claim he has infringed their copyright by stealing material from The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, a non-fiction work that examined the Jesus theory and which was itself a best-seller. Why am I so ill-equipped? Easy, I haven't read either book.
What may seem like a storm in a teacup to the average punter is a big deal to authors. A very big deal. No more vile calumny can be accused than plagiarism. However, things, as usual, are not always as cut and dried as they appear. Let's have a look at the law.
Interpretation is related to the independent creation rather than the idea behind the creation. For example, your idea for a book would not itself be protected, but the actual content of a book you write would be. In other words, someone else is still entitled to write their own book around the same idea, provided they do not directly copy or adapt yours to do so. Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Seems fairly clear. I am familiar with this concept. One of my most famous quotations to seemingly endless generations of school children, “Ideas are free, but someone's actual writing isn't” applies here. Therefore, if I want to write a book called say, “George Barnes and the Castle of Doom” and set it in a boarding school for apprentice witches and warlocks where George and his mates, Herbert and Hazel, have many adventures whilst trying to find the entrance to the Castle of Doom – fine. If, on the other hand they play a game called Sliddich on powered broomsticks, I may be in difficulties. I say may be, because even then I might argue that I was simply adapting an idea I read in a more famous (and tedious – in my opinion) work of a similar theme, like Harry Potter.
As it so succinctly says on the UK copyrite website: Has a copyright infringement actually occurred? Be clear in your mind that an infringement has actually occurred and that this is not simply a case of incidental inclusion or coincidence. The work should be substantially similar in design, structure or content, to the degree that it can be said that the work was coped or adapted from your original, rather than simply a similar idea or concept. Fact sheet P-05
I'm particularly intrigued as to why the case is being heard in the High Court at all? Random House are big all over. They are big in America. Big in Australia. Big in New Zealand. They are pretty much ubiquitous in the English speaking world. I suspect, though I have no evidence, that the UK courts are more likely to look favourably on this claim than other parts of the world where the Random House Empire operates. It certainly wouldn't surprise me as UK libel laws are probably the most Draconian since Draco himself. I mean Draco the Athenian law-giver who decreed the death penalty for minor offences, like owing money on your drachma credit card – not Draco Malfoy who is just an unpleasant pilloch in Harry Potter novels. Perhaps the copyright laws are similar.
Incidentally, whilst on this topic, I'll never forget the look of absolute wonder and amazement on the faces of a class of 7 year olds when I was able to translate the Hogwarts school motto, Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus (colloq. Don't Mess About and Tickle Sleeping Dragons!) off the top of my head. Ah, the joys of classical education!
I expect the erstwhile suitors who hope to relieve Mr Brown of a substantial portion of his “lolly” think they've got a better chance here in dear old Blighty. Perhaps they are right.
Some more comment from the Times:
Mr Rayner-James said his clients had invested a great deal of time, effort and skill in their book, while Dan Brown had “appropriated its architecture”, and had even copied some of the language. The author’s copy of HBHG was heavily annotated, it was alleged. Mr Rayer-James went on about “levels of abstraction” as though he were talking about drawing water from an aquifer. The implication, however, was that Brown had abstracted so much from HBHG that he should have gone back to original sources, which were largely the Dossiers Secrets in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, containing narratives on, among other topics, the Merovingians, the Knights Templars and the Tribe of Banjamin. Every lawyer in court yesterday was equipped with copies of both books. Mr Justice Peter Smith, who exhibits both a refreshing northern accent and a magnificent moustache, disclosed that he had read both — but not, he said, in an analytical way. Jonathan Rayner-James, QC, for the claimants, told the judge that Dan Brown had “appropriated” the central theme of HBHG. “The claimants are not alone in this. Many people all over the world have commented to the same effect since The Da Vinci Code was first published.” One who noticed was a letter-writer to The Times.
Last word to the Times literary critic Peter Millar:
“What The Times said:
The Da Vinci Code THIS is without doubt, the silliest, most inaccurate, ill-informed, stereotype-driven, cloth-eared, cardboard-cutout-populated piece of pulp fiction that I have read. And that’s saying something. It would be bad enough that Brown has gone into New Age overdrive by trying to draw together the Grail, Mary Magdalene, the Knights Templar, the Priory of Sion, Rosicrucianism, Fibonacci numbers, the Isis cult and the Age of Aquarius. But he’s done it so sloppily.” Peter Millar — June 12, 2003
Maybe the boys are arguing about nothing of much worth at all. Must be the money.