Sunday, October 30, 2005

PurSued

Two authors in Britain are suing Random House for publishing author Dan Brown's mega bestseller The Da Vinci Code, which they claim contains ideas that were stolen from their 1982 nonfiction book.

(yawn)

You know, I haven't sued Dan Brown or his publisher yet, and I remember once in the seventies that I did think about the possibility of [major spoiler from The Da Vinci Code]. Dan could have stolen the idea from me by using his super secret psychic powers to read my mind. Or maybe it was those Brit guys who did. You know how into ESPionage the British are.

Anyway. Have you sued Dan Brown lately?

**Add-on:** To learn more about copyright law, check out The American Bar Association's Copyright Basics Page

17 comments:

  1. *rolls eyes*

    This puts me in mind of that woman who sued J. K. Rowling a couple years back.....

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  2. Funnily enough, my wife was tidying a few bookshelves in my daughter's bedroom and she pulled out an old Welsh picturebook from 1975 called Magic in the Myst by Margaret Mary Kimmel. It's about an apprentice wizard called Thomas, - nothing special in itself - but the artwork is a real eye-opener. It features a small dark-haired kid with round glasses and a stripy scarf, and his hut looks like Hagrid's.
    Story is essential about how he finds a baby dragon on the moors and takes it home to look after it.
    I'm not suggesting for a minute it was an inspiration for Potter, it was just the surprise of digging this thing out. We buy second hand books by the carton, which is why I'd never seen it before.
    I do know that if they re-published it today they'd probably get a C&D from Rowling's lawyers... until they checked a few dates.
    I'd post a couple of scans just for curiosity value, but I'm a bit worried about copyright. (Mind you, 10% is okay for purposes of discussion and study isn't it?)
    Anyway, the point is that there is a vast body of work out there. As a child, if you had a favourite picture book with an apprentice wizard in, who cares if memories of that character inspire you to write a book 25 years later?
    Back to your post: If Baigent and Leigh were on the ball they'd re-release their book with a new title: something like "Inspiring the Da Vinci code" or "Prelude to the Da Vinci code". Sure to sell heaps.
    Cheers
    Simon

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  3. Update: I just spotted the book on an ebay listing (shows the cover).
    It's not my listing (I'm not selling), it's just the result of a random search.

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  4. Didn't Brown just settle one with somebody else? Plus, he won.

    How do authors deal with something like this? I've read somewhere? that a lot of the same ideas seem to come to authors/filmmakers around the same time. Is this why we have X plot from a movie one week, then 17 of the same plotted movies a week later?

    As Simon said, he should have marketed it around the Da Vinci Code theme. I think I saw 20 or so books with 'Da Vinci' code in their titles at the book store six months after Brown's book came out.

    Knights Templar of the Da Vinci Code
    Da Vinci Explained
    Explaining Da Vinci
    Decoding The Da Vinci Code
    Coding in Da Vinci's Works
    Or some such.

    Can you steal an idea? If so, couldn't Shakespear come back and make bank? How many have ripped off Romeo and Juliet? Much Ado About Nothing? King Lear? Othello? Hamlet? If an idea is dealing with the same true events, how do you go about saying; In such and such time, Da Vinci painted a picture of possibly a woman, possibly a man, and put into it the meaning of the universe. Can you figure it out and save the world in time? There's only so many ways to tell the truth. Right? Unless Brown literally lifted passages (big or small) out of a person's books, isn't it just using the same research material available for anyone?

    Please, feel free to enlighten me. I'm always up for learning more about most any subject. I understand to an extent why other authors are sueing, but let's just say not really.

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  5. Simon, you've got me curious about this book now -- and I agree on the cover art.


    Mary, Dan Brown was sued by another author, Lewis Purdue, who had written a novel similar to The Da Vinci Code, but back in August the judge in the case ruled that the books were not similar enough to constitude copyright infringement. Another author (I'm not sure if this resulted in litigation or not) claimed Brown ripped off on of the now-deceased Pope John Paul II's books.

    Fortunately most published authors don't have to deal with Dan Brown's woes; we're simply not making enough money to attract that kind of attention. Coincidences are frequent and sometimes spooky. Holly Lisle and I discovered once we had written stories with protagonists who had the exact same name (this was before we had ever met one another or read each other's work.)

    Everything you write is protected the minute it hits the page, and you can sue if someone copies it and publishes it without your permission, but you're right, you can't copyright an idea or concept.

    Btw, Holly also happens to have a great article about ideas and stealing them here.

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  6. Ok, this is the Potter look-alike for those who haven't read my other comment. (I'll take them down if anyone thinks this is a copyright violation of some kind.)
    Pic 1 & Pic 2
    Spooky, eh?

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  7. Those are cool pictures, Simon. It looks like a book I'd like to read.

    It's weird (i before e... isn't 'weird' one that breaks the rule?) how similar ideas kind of float through the aether. The idea for my first novel, now at about 50% completed, has been floating around in my head for at least ten years, and as I started writing it, I noticed that there were several recently published books with the same basic idea.

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  8. I'm suing the Chandler estate for plagiarizing me before I was born. Yeah, that's right. He met my grandma in 1936 and knew she'd have a child or grandchild who'd write THE BIG SLEEP, so he stole the idea.

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  9. Jim wrote: I'm suing the Chandler estate for plagiarizing me before I was born.

    That makes me wonder. I could be the reincarnation of Mary Magdalene. Dan Brown may have infringed the journals I kept during my past life.

    It would also explain my strange fetish for olive oil and attractive male feet...

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  10. Nope. Wouldn't be worth my time, effort, and money. And I'd probably have to read more of his stuff, which I refuse to do. It may be unwarranted, but his attention to obvious detail was so poor in the book I did read, I don't want to chance another.

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  11. Peggy K.9:17 AM

    What's truly amusing to me in this whole thing is that Brown acknwowledges having used Baigent and Leigh as a source--even going so far as to name his character Leigh Teabing (anagrams, anyone?) as an homage to their book(s).

    Some days you just want to scream, "It's called 'research,' dude!" at the top of your lungs...

    To my knowledge, Baigent et al have not sued other authors who referenced their work (check out Brown's source listing for DVC; many of those authors did use similar ideas, as well.

    I was reading this stuff 20 years ago; I even toyed with the idea of writing a novel around it...now I'm glad I didn't.

    Sheesh.

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  12. As Holly says in her article, there are no new ideas. My books feature a confident space pilot, and a couple of people have asked me whether he's based on Han Solo from Star Wars. The truth is that I went out of my way to make sure my characters, settings and plot were NOTHING like anything I've seen in any space series, fantasy trilogy, TV program, movie, comic book or postage stamp I've ever come across.
    What I can't do is make my books dissimilar to stuff I haven't even seen: someone's unpublished manuscript, or a Ukranian comic book, or a French TV show from the 1950s. Don't laugh, stranger fish have risen from the deep in search of a free meal.
    I was on a mailing list once where people had this encylopaedic knowledge of All Which Came Before in the SF millieu. They could tell you when and where an idea had first been used, and had absorbed every book and short story ever published. Their view was that you had to read all this stuff to avoid the deadly sin of Reusing An Idea.
    I had to leave the group ... it was just too depressing and restrictive.

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  13. Years and years ago I wrote a story about a kid (Harry Potter-ish), who's parents were killed in a mysterious accident. He was being raised by his aunt and uncle, treated poorly by them and their real kids, (Harry Potter style) when he discovered that his parents weren't regular people but spies that died in the line of duty. That gave him rights to attend a spy school (Harry Potter-ish with high-tech gadgets instead of magic) where he met a host of characters that mostly match up with the Harry Potter characters creating father-figures, mothering-figures, guardians and teachers for the young man as he has adventures growing up.

    Spies and gizmos instead of wizards and magic. Very similar story line. The fact that it was never published (and shouldn't have been - I was just a kid when I wrote it and no child-prodigy like PBW) might make it hard to sue JK, but I did put it down on paper (via typewriter - no puters at the time).

    If I were to rewrite it today and get it published, EVERYONE would assume that I had ripped-off JK's story line and characters. Heck, if someone else wrote a story like that I'D think they ripped off JK. She might even want to sue ME even though I had the idea first and put it on paper many years ago.

    Of course she couldn't possibly have read my work and stolen it. Crazy to even think about it. With 110,000 new novels coming out every year, the truly suspicious thing would be a LACK of coincidences.

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  14. Ideas are in the air :) I recently had what I thought was a pretty cool idea for a book. Shared with a friend. A friend said, hello, haven't you read the first book in Liz Maverick's Crimson City series? It's, like, your plot with a few small adjustments. I went and read Liz's book. The friend was right. The voices would be different if I ever wrote mine, but our proposals must have been twins. Then it dawned on me. We both watched the movie Underworld :-)))
    Because that's what both ideas also resembled.
    But then--Underworld is basically "Romeo and Juliet with vampires vs werewolves plus "Your Blood Is Special" subplot typical for modern vampire fantasy." I.e., constructed of two popular plots joined together.
    There is also such a thing as an old idea with a new twist. Die Hard on a bus :). Is that plagiarism or not? I've read a book which had only one thing making it, well, different from another book published about the same time: different type of supernatural creatures playing a huge part in the plot. The rest, they could have been written following the same outline. Even two main characters looked about the same.

    So, if I write a YA series about a small, brunette girl who cannot hear that well without her cyberear apparatus, who lives in 2200 and is suddenly thrust into the world of secret psionics existing in the normal world. Sent to a school where four main kinds of psi abilities form four faculties... making friends...getting enemies... playing an alien game with balls diving and jumping underwater and players chasing them on robosharks controlled by psi impulses -- will J.R. sue me? ;-)

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  15. I like learning things.
    Thank you, PBW, for clearing that up for me. So in other words, I can copyright the design of a chair, just not the idea of "the chair".
    It's also an eye opener to know authors don't make as much money as most readers seem to think.

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  16. It's not like it's a new idea. Plenty of people besides Dan Brown have used it. People are silly.

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  17. zornhau4:43 AM

    Genres have tropes. Outsiders looking at one break-out example, e.g. Harry Potter, may mistake the tropes for originality and then later be shocked to discover, SOMEBODY DID IT FIRST!

    'nuf said
    Z

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