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Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 7 (Reuters) Best-selling author Dan Brown was vindicated today in a British court battle with two historians who accused him of plagiarising their book in order to write ''The Da Vinci Code''.

A judge at the High Court in London said that while Brown may have copied bits of the 1982 book ''The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail'', that did not amount to a breach of copyright.

''Even if the central themes were copied, they are too general or of too low a level of abstraction to be capable of protection by copyright law,'' judge Peter Smith told the court.

Historians Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, had brought the court case against Brown's British publisher Random House.

In a case followed intensely by reporters, copyright lawyers and fans of The Da Vinci Code, Baigent and Leigh said Brown stole the central themes of their book and used them in his own, which has sold over 40 million copies worldwide.

Brown testified during the month-long trial, which was peppered with abstruse debate over the Merovingian monarchy, the Knights Templar and the bloodline of Jesus Christ, all of which feature in The Da Vinci Code.

The publicity-shy American author said he was pleased by the ruling although he was not in court to hear it.

''(It) shows that this claim was utterly without merit,'' he said in a statement. ''I'm still astonished that these two authors chose to file their suit at all.

''A novelist must be free to draw appropriately from historical works without fear that he'll be sued ... This is a good day both for those who write and those who enjoy reading.'' COMMON SENSE PREVAILS Random House, owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG [BERT.UL], also welcomed the judgment, as did Sony Pictures <6758.T>, which is due to release a Hollywood film based on ''The Da Vinci Code''.

''We are pleased that justice and common sense have prevailed,'' Random House's chairman and chief executive Gail Rebuck said in a statement.

Baigent and Leigh were denied leave to appeal and face a legal bill of over 1 million pounds ($1.75 million), although an increase in sales of their own book as a result of the publicity surrounding the case may ease the pain.

Holy Blood, like The Da Vinci Code, was published by Random House and some observers have suggested the court case was orchestrated by the publisher to boost sales of both books, a suggestion Random House rejects.

The case was the second of its kind involving Brown.

Last August, he won a ruling in New York against another writer who claimed he had copied elements of two of his books to write The Da Vinci Code.

In welcoming today's judgment, Brown found time to praise the neo-Gothic splendour of the High Court building, which, with its pinnacles and arches, looks as though it has come straight out of one of his novels.

''I look forward to returning soon to view it from a vantage point other than the witness stand,'' he said.

REUTERS SBJ RAI2047

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