Some critics panned it, the Vatican denounced it, a rights group voiced dismay over its albino villain. For a book this wildly popular—with 40 million copies in print, it's among the best-selling adult novels in history—Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code sure has a lot of detractors. And now it has something worse: a London court case that could give two other authors a percentage of Da Vinci's royalties and might even delay the May opening of the long-awaited film version. At issue? British authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh contend Brown stole his plot—which suggests that Jesus and Mary Magdalene wed and had a child, with their bloodline surviving to this day—from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, their 1982 nonfiction work. They have sued Random House, which published both books in England, for copyright infringement and $150 million in damages, and seek to block distribution of the book as well as the movie.
Brown, 41, freely acknowledges he read Holy Blood—the book, itself a bestseller, is even mentioned in Da Vinci. What's more, the name of the villain in Da Vinci, Sir Leigh Teabing, is an anagram of one of Holy Blood's authors' names. But Brown has insisted that their work was not "crucial or important" in the writing of Da Vinci. Outside the courtroom on Feb. 27, he also noted a key point of departure—where Holy Blood speculates that the Crucifixion was faked, Da Vinci accepts that Jesus died on the cross. "Suggesting a married Jesus is one thing," Brown told reporters, "but questioning the Resurrection undermines the very heart of Christian belief."
Will the Holy Blood authors win? "These suits rarely succeed in England," says London copyright lawyer Mark Stephens. Sony Pictures apparently isn't worried. "The lawsuit is not about the movie," says a spokesman. "We are proceeding with our plans."
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