Intellectual Property

The Messianic Legacy


My view of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has been ratified by London's High Court: It may be a ripoff of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, but that doesn't mean it was plagiarized from that book. Brown almost certainly lifted the central conceit of his novel—that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene spawned a line of godly descendants—from Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln's classic of crank history. But it isn't plagiarism to adopt someone's factual claims. Since Holy Blood purports to be true, any historical novelist should be free to borrow its ideas. (Indeed, I know of at least two pre-Da Vinci novels that did just that. The Magdalene yarn is one of several intertwined conspiracy theories in Robert Anton Wilson's The Widow's Son, and it has a cameo in Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. Both books, by the way, are better reads than anything Brown will ever write.)

The suit seemed a little churlish as well. I can guarantee you that Holy Blood has sold many more copies in the last few years than it would have had Dan Brown died in 1995. Note to Mr. Brown: When you write your next potboiler, please feel free to plagiarize Rebels on the Air.

Next up: The debate over Ron Howard's Da Vinci Code movie, due out in May, which promises to provoke a culture-war battle the likes of which we haven't seen since … oh, let's say V for Vendetta.