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"Da Vinci Code" case ends, ruling by early April

Written by: Staff

LONDON, March 21 (Reuters) The copyright case brought by two historians who accuse Dan Brown of plagiarising their work in ''The Da Vinci Code'' has ended, and the presiding judge said he hoped to give a ruling by early April.

Lasting more than three weeks, the closely watched hearings featured a tetchy Brown in the witness box, debate about the Merovingian monarchy, the Knights Templar and Jesus' bloodline, and revelations about the media-shy author and his wife Blythe.

The Da Vinci Code, one of the most successful novels of all time with sales of over 40 million copies, uses some of the same ideas as ''The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,'' a 1982 work of historical conjecture by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.

Both books raise the possibility that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene, that she fled to France after the Crucifixion and that Christ's bloodline survives to this day. They also associate Magdalene with the Holy Grail.

Baigent and Leigh, who have been in court throughout the case, are suing Brown's British publisher Random House, which also happens to be their own.

''He (Brown) and/or Blythe has intentionally used HBHG in order to save the time and effort that independent research would have required,'' Jonathan Rayner James, lawyer for Baigent and Leigh yesterday said.

The third author of the Holy Blood book, Henry Lincoln, is not part of the legal action.

In his closing submission, Rayner James tried to play down fears that victory for the historians would limit the extent to which novelists can draw on sources, historical or otherwise.

WHERE WAS BLYTHE? Blythe Brown emerged as a key figure in the case, collecting research material before her husband wrote the novel and arguing for the inclusion of some of its most important themes.

Rayner James said Blythe's evidence was of ''fundamental importance'' to the case.

''It was crucial in revealing the dependency on HBHG and the extent to which she relied upon it,'' he said. ''Perhaps that explains why she was not produced.'' Dan Brown, who was not in court yesterday but spent three days under cross-examination last week, has explained that he wanted to keep his wife away from the media spotlight.

The lawyer criticised Brown, 41, for being vague about dates and sources. He also admitted his own client Baigent had been ''a poor witness''.

The historians argue that Blythe must have referred to the Holy Blood book before Brown wrote his synopsis for The Da Vinci Code in January 2001, contrary to his witness statement.

Copyright lawyers believe the historians may struggle to convince the judge they can copyright general ideas, while publishing executives say the case underlines the saying: ''Where there's a hit, there's a writ.'' It is not the first time Brown has been accused of plagiarism.

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

The losing side in the current case faces over one million pounds (1.75 million dollars) in legal costs, though the publicity has caused a spike in sales of the Holy Blood book.

Also set to benefit from the media coverage is the Hollywood movie of The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks, out in May; the release of the U S paperback edition of the novel on March 28, and Baigent, whose book ''The Jesus Papers'' is due out next week.


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