Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lawsuit with The Da Vinci Code

Aren't we a sue-happy society? Are any of you worried about this lawsuit over The Da Vinci Code? That Dan Brown is having to go through this rubbish, with the authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh claiming Mr Brown "appropriated the architecture" of their non-fiction book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, published in 1982, is amazing to me. How can anyone who wrote a nonfiction history reference book claim that Dan Brown plagiarized the facts in his fiction novel? History is history, to be intertwined in our fiction books as our imaginations take wing. The lawsuit, coming in on the tail winds of A Million Little Pieces, is just too coincidental. But that book was totally different than the DaVinci Code. I mean, it was a memoir and was supposed to be nonfiction. The Da Vinci Code is a fiction novel, for heavens sake.

On CNN yesterday, the commentator was interviewing several experts on the subject. One guy was saying that the theory of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalena and having children has been around for thousands of years. So that's not a unique idea that Baigent and Leigh came up with; it's a historical point of view. One of the fiction characters in The Da Vinci Code says that the history book wasn't correct, and that's another reason for the lawsuit. Good grief, it was part of the plot for the character to claim it wasn't factual.

On CNN, the commentator was asking the others, "What is their objective? What do they want?" The three experts said, "Money." That's it; they're jealous that their book didn't make it big and they want a piece of the pie.

Maybe Dan Brown's mistake was that he shouldn't have mentioned any of the references in his story – just like I try really hard not to mention any names of actual restaurants in my settings. But then I'm sure that a lot of people probably went out and bought those reference books to see for themselves what Dan Brown's characters were talking about. I certainly did. To me, it's like cutting off your nose to spite your face for these authors then to sue Brown after he was so nice as to mention the name of their book in his story and generate new interest in something written over twenty years ago. So if Dan Brown would have said that he got his reference material from several sources and didn't give anyone credit in his story, just made up fictitious reference books, maybe he wouldn't have been sued. Then those nonfiction authors wouldn't have gotten an increase in their sales.

I just hope that Dan Brown wins the case, and that he counter sues. If he doesn't win, won't that set us all up for lawsuits? Right now I'm studying Celtic history, and I'm thinking of tweaking the mythologies to make them fit my story. Isn't that my right as a fiction author? Or am I going to have to worry about lawsuits? (I know, only unless my book makes a huge splash like The Da Vinci Code!)

My husband says anyone can sue anybody for anything. I know that's true. We can get sued for someone walking across our property and stubbing her toe. But I hope this isn't an indicator that fiction authors are going to have to face lots of lawsuits. I don't want authors to have to start monitoring their plots, or worry about what their fiction characters do and say because fiction authors can't tweak historical facts. After all, as an expert from the Library of Congress once said to me, history is what people report. Who really knows what really happened, and how it affected a person? Several people can see the same event, but because of their perspective, their prejudices, their experience base, or simply where they're standing, each report will be different.

And remember, we are writing fiction. (And I can't wait to see the movie!)

(For more information, click here.)


Lynn M said...

It is disgusting, what Dan Brown is going through. Doesn't every work of fiction contain - if not actually, implicitly - the disclaimer that any resemblance to real life people or events is purely coincidental? How many works of fiction are out there that use actual historical figures as characters but take liberties with events and the like because the book is clearly labeled FICTION?

I think it's perfectly acceptable to start with a real or reported premise - mythology for example - and twist it as necessary to make it work for fiction. If writers didn't twist reality this way and that, there would be no new stories in the world. That's the challeng, to present familiar things in new and unique ways. If writers are going to get sued for taking history and using it as fodder for works of fiction, then we are all in trouble.

JoAnn Ross said...

This is one of those things that makes me nuts. Artists routinely say whose work has "inspired" them. As do musicians. Movies are made based on real life events, as well as retelling of old stories and what would Law and Order do if they couldn't Rip From The Headlines?

Yet let a writer even suggest that anything in his or her book isn't an entirely brand new, never been thought up idea born totally in his/her mind, and people start shouting plagiarism. Of course it's about money.

One interesting note is that the trial's in Great Britain, where losers in civil cases pay court costs. (Which, supposedly, keeps down nuisance lawsuits.) I wonder, if Brown wins, if those other guys will make enough from sales generated from the trial to pay those costs.

It is, probably, the best thing that could happen for the movie. Maybe the production company could pay the costs, because you sure couldn't buy this publicity.

Personally, I still don't get how Brown made $65 million for what to me was a flatly told, not at all original story with cardboard characters, who, every time they opened their mouths, I could practically see them writing down the explanations on a chalkboard. But the fact he made bushes of bucks after S&S let him get away, offers hope to all hardworking, unappreciated writers. :D

Anonymous said...

I didn't know that about The Da Vinci Code being rejected by Simon and Schuster. It must have been an option book after Angels and Demons. Thanks for sharing that, JoAnn. :) That is a big inspiration to me!

JoAnn Ross said...

No, it wasn't rejected. At least not that I know of. When his editor interviewed for a new house, he was asked what writer he'd most hate to leave. He said Dan Brown. The house brought Brown, whose numbers apparently were less than stellar over partly to get the editor. And you know if S&S had really wanted him, they would've fought to keep him.

You're probably right about it being the option book, because they can be tough so I doubt they'd have let him out of a contract. (They consistently refuse to let me write anything resembling romantic suspense for my Brava novellas, for instance, even though they don't have any suspense anthologies to put me in.)

It worked out for them, though, because so far they've made more money from Brown's backlist than has been made by the Da Vinci Code. (At least that's what they tell stockholders.) Of course the Code hasn't come out in mass market yet. When that happens, all bets are off. :)

Anonymous said...

Okay. Thanks for clarify for me, JoAnn.