Up until recently, I hadn’t been following the lawsuit filed in the UK against Dan Brown’s publishers, but it may be worth watching closely. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up all along, two of the three authors of a nonfiction book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, claim that in his novel The Da Vinci Code, Brown used the “architecture” of Holy Blood–namely, its argument that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, that the couple had children, and that there was a conspiracy to keep this secret–in creating his work of fiction. Brown did apparently use Holy Blood as one of his sources, and a character in the novel even mentions the nonfiction work.
I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code, and probably won’t be doing so, not on ideological grounds but because the whole thing sounds sort of silly to me. Moreover, it’s a thriller, and I don’t read thrillers–riding on the expressway surrounded by SUV’s being driven by people who are chatting on their cell phones while traveling 75 miles per hour is enough thrill for me, thank you.
But whatever one thinks of the merits, literary or otherwise, of The Da Vinci Code, the outcome of this trial will be of interest to writers of historical fiction, at least to those who bother to do research. If a novelist uses a nonfiction writer’s conclusion–particularly a new or a controversial conclusion–as a jumping-off point for his own work, will he be exposing himself to liability? What if the conclusion is only a small component of the fictional work? What if the conclusion is the meat and bones of the fictional work? Will the novelist have to pay nonfiction writers for the right to use the fruits of their research? What about nonfiction writers who build on the foundation of research of others?
Lots to ponder here.