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British Court Rules in Favor of  <i>Da Vinci Code</i>

A British judge has ruled that American author Dan Brown did not commit plagiarism in writing his best-selling novel, "The Da Vinci Code." VOA's Michael Drudge reports from London.

Judge Peter Smith has dismissed a lawsuit by two British authors who had claimed Dan Brown stole his ideas for The Da Vinci Code from their 1982 book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.

Smith said there is no evidence Brown resorted to plagiarism or violated the copyright of the earlier work by historians Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.

Both books are based on a theory that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion, took Mary Magdalene as his wife, and that their descendants survive to this day. Christian theologians say the thesis is false and heretical.

In a written statement, Brown says the verdict shows the claim was "utterly without merit." Brown says he is eager to get back to writing.

Random House, which publishes both books and was the defendant in the lawsuit, says the judge's ruling shows the case never should have been filed.

Copyright experts say a victory by Baigent and Leigh could have had a chilling effect on authors writing fiction based on previous historical research.

Charles Swan is a London copyright lawyer who spoke on British television shortly after the verdict was announced.

"It's extremely important for authors and publishers, because if Dan Brown had lost, it would have been very difficult for writers because they would have to have their books legally checked by lawyers every time they relied on history books," he said.

The verdict clears the way for the May 19 release of a film based on The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks. Sony Pictures says the ruling is very important for the future of creative writing.

The Da Vinci Code book has sold more than 40 million copies since it was first published in 2003.

Following the verdict, the plaintiff, Richard Leigh, said he felt vindicated and he claimed that he and Baijent had won on what he called "the spirit of the law." He did not elaborate.

Since the court ruled against the plaintiffs, they now face legal bills and fines of more than two million dollars.