Closing Arguments Heard in 'Da Vinci Code' Case
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THING CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. The lawyer for the plaintiffs made closing arguments today in the London plagiarism suit against novelist Dan Brown's publisher. Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh are suing Random House. They say that Brown stole the idea for The Da Vinci Code from their 1982 nonfiction book The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. The idea, roughly that Mary Magdalene and Jesus survived, married and left behind royal prodigy, is not taken very seriously by scholars, but The Da Vinci Code has made so much money and promises to make still more as a movie, that there is something more than scholarly reputation and theology at stake in this London courtroom. Katherine Rushton, a reporter for the Bookseller Magazine, has been covering the trial. Welcome back to the program.
KATHERINE RUSHTON (Reporter, Bookseller Magazine): Hello.
SIEGEL: First today was the closing arguments for the plaintiffs. What was the argument in a nutshell?
Ms. RUSHTON: Well they are basically covering old ground, going over the arguments that they presented throughout the three-week trial. I think a high point was an attack on Dan Brown for not bringing his wife, Blythe, to court. She conducted a lot of the research for The Da Vinci Code, and, they say, and in fact the judge agreed that she would have been a very useful witness to have in the trial.
SIEGEL: And last week the defense made its closing argument. How did that go?
Ms. RUSHTON: They essentially tore into the witnesses. They said that Michael Baigent was a disaster in the witness box, and either a fool, or he was deceiving the court.
SIEGEL: Here's what I don't understand about the theory of this lawsuit. If Baigent and Leigh said we produced, in 1982, a work of imagination, I understand claiming that somebody else might be plagiarizing it. But if they claim this actually is the writing of history, isn't it hard to argue that it's their property in some way?
Ms. RUSHTON: Well it's interesting that you say that, because that's one of the issues that came up in court today. They say that Brown has stolen the architecture of their work, and to quote them, "hung it on a peg of the fictional thriller." One of the points that came up today, though, that the judge raised the issued of whether their supposedly factual book can be classed as facts, or if it's so conjectural that it borders on fiction? Which, of course, I think they would be loath to admit themselves, because that would undermine their scholarship.
SIEGEL: Well how would you describe the attention that this case has been getting in London, and what kind of folks have been showing up in court?
Ms. RUSHTON: Well they've been on the front page of all the national newspapers. It's received massive amounts of radio and television coverage. Those days where Brown was giving evidence himself, everyone was cramming into court. People were even fighting over seats. The people inside the room included journalists from all over the world. There were also a lot of authors of other conspiracy novels. Also, would-be authors who were desperate to sell their related manuscripts to the publishers who would be giving evidence at the trial.
SIEGEL: You mean writers are turning up with manuscripts at the trial knowing that there is so many literary people around?
Ms. RUSTON: Yeah, yeah, yeah, there are some comedy characters in the courtroom who, every time the judge talks about particular details of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, they seem to sigh and roll their eyes because they think that actually the truth was something else. So yes, there are many conspiracy theorists there.
SIEGEL: Now both of these books are Random House properties yes?
Ms. RUSHTON: That's right.
SIEGEL: So this is like having publicity for these two books nonstop.
Ms. RUSHTON: Publicity has gone through the roof, and in fact it has driven a massive increase in sales. I think that sales of The Da Vinci Code at the end of last week were up by 54 percent, and sales of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail were up by something like 750 percent. So they are both being very well out of it in those terms.
SIEGEL: Katherine Rushton thank you very much for talking with us today.
Ms. RUSHTON: Thank you very much.
SIEGEL: That's Katherine Rushton of the Bookseller Magazine in London where she's been covering the trial claiming plagiarism by Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.