Author Who Lost Copyright Case Over The Da Vinci Code In The US In 2007 Looks To Revive It In The UK In 2017

from the try-try-again dept

Author Dan Brown is certainly not a stranger to copyright claims and lawsuits over his bestseller The Da Vinci Code. Not long after publishing the book in 2003 to wide acclaim, several legal actions took place against Brown and his publisher, as well as some action initiated by the publisher to stave off claims of copyright infringement and plagiarism. One such case that we did not cover here was brought by Jack Dunn of Massachusetts, who authored a book called The Vatican Boys, and sued Brown in Massachusetts for copyright infringement over the usual claims: there were claimed similarities in characters, plots, and factual assertions (including some that are erroneous in both). In 2007, Judge Michael Ponsor threw out the case, claiming that all the evidence Dunn’s legal team provided amounted to thematic and structural similarities, which are not copyrightable.

For the proceeding decade, Dunn simply went away. That is until he found another law firm willing to file another copyright suit against Brown, but this time in the UK. The suit is reportedly being prepped for filing, with Dunn’s side making much of the impending legal action.

Dunn has hired London-based media law firm Keystone Law. In a letter to Penguin Random House, Keystone stated they intended to issue proceedings for copyright infringement unless they received a credible explanation from Brown and his researcher wife, Blythe Brown, for what they perceive to be extraordinary similarities in both works.

Keystone Law’s letter stated: “There are hundreds of similarities between “The Vatican Boys” and “The Da Vinci Code” which comprise copying portions of TVB [“The Vatican Boys”] in the form of storylines, plots, characters, historical information, scenes, themes and even factual error which have been appropriated from TVB by Mr. and/or Mrs. Brown in writing The TDC [“The Da Vinci Code].”

It seems that the requested explanation from Brown or Penguin Random House will not be coming. In response, the publisher flatly rejected all of Dunn’s claims and then helpfully put in written display, something like warning heads on pikes, all of the prior litigation by both Dunn and others that Brown and the publisher have fended off successfully.  

There are several factors that should give Dunn and his legal team pause when it comes to actually filing this suit. Much of the reasoning by Dunn for filing this second lawsuit centers around his claim that the US ruling didn’t properly evaluate the evidence he presented. That’s unlikely to be the case. His reasoning for filing the suit in the UK, on the other hand, is flatly bizarre.

Dunn told MarketWatch he is now finalizing legal evidence in preparation for issuing copyright proceedings against Brown. Dunn, who is from Western Massachusetts, said “The Vatican Boys” was sold around New England upon publication, and he said he suspects Dan Brown read his book while he was living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in the late 1990s.

Little of which factors at all as a basis for the UK being the proper venue for this lawsuit between two American authors. On top of that, it stretches the mind to believe that it has taken the better part of a decade for an author to come up with all of these dastardly similarities between his own work and one of the most widely read books in modern times. So too does it bend credulity to imagine that these newly discovered similarities are of the sort that are awarded copyright protection. After all, if the new evidence is more explosive than the old evidence, why wasn’t it properly presented ten years ago?

We’ll see if this suit ever gets filed. Given Brown’s track record for defeating these sorts of attempts, I know on which party I’d be putting my money.

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Companies: keystone law, penguin random house

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Comments on “Author Who Lost Copyright Case Over The Da Vinci Code In The US In 2007 Looks To Revive It In The UK In 2017”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: I don't know about the other claims, but...

Certainly. On the other hand, I do read a lot of what is known as historical fiction, and these books may be at least somewhat classed as such. Much is in fact fiction, and parts are actual history, at least in terms of the history the winners wrote. Those might be considered facts, and unless expressed in a unique way, like the phone book, facts are not copyrightable. At least in the US.

The claim quoted in the article:

"…in the form of storylines, plots, characters, historical information, scenes, themes and even factual error…"

Seems to say information not otherwise ‘invented’ and/or characterized by the author.

The claim of copying factual error might be they both used the same source (how does one prove ‘factual error’ on something that happened hundreds of years ago) and it may just be a matter of opinion as to that source being in error. Which brings to mind the possibility that both authors plagiarized or committed copyright infringement (unless the source is in the public domain) on the original author of those factual errors. Or they both re-characterized the same scenario from that other source.

Hell, we have a hard time getting current history straight with all the ‘fake news’ and plausible deniability and other contretemps to obscure what is actually happening around. Imagine what the historians will write about when describing say the mid 1900’s to the mid 2000’s and how much of that will actually be right?

It’s a mess in any sense.

TechDescartes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I don't know about the other claims, but...

Imagine what the historians will write about when describing say the mid 1900’s to the mid 2000’s and how much of that will actually be right?

Can’t know that till we know who the winners are, right?

Thanks for clarifying your original comment. I hadn’t clicked through to the article and therefore hadn’t read the quote. Just doing my part.

John85851 (profile) says:

Was this case started by a lawyer who doesn't know copyright law?

Again, I have to ask: who are the lawyers taking cases like this? Either:
1) They don’t know copyright law, which means they shouldn’t be leading a copyright case.
2) They’re taking Dunn’s money to file a case they know they’ll lose, but they need the money.

The courts should start to take action against lawyers like this, if just to stop these frivolous lawsuits. And, yes, it’s 100% frivolous to try to keep suing when the case is dead. (And I’m assuming he exhausted all appeals in the US, which is why he’s heading to the UK.)

Jordan Chandler (profile) says:

England vs. USA

If you’re not a resident of the UK, and neither is your plaintiff, and you don’t have assets in the UK, etc, what legal position does he think he has? Dan Brown could just not respond and nothing would ever happen. You can’t be extradited for such a case.

He likely chose the UK because of their shitty libel laws where the defendant has to prove the allegations are untrue. Perhaps they have something similar for copyright

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: England vs. USA

It would seem that his lawyers are employing the same ‘logic’ that was covered in a somewhat recent article about an East Texas judge, where if one of the parties might have possibly thought about doing business/breathing the air in a location that’s good enough to fall under it’s jurisdiction.

David says:


The way I see it, more than anybody else Dan Brown plagiarizes himself with the “breathless pseudoscientificomythical goose chase covering up a large bout of inconsistencies” plot line. Just what the plot revolves around is of secondary nature.

I have no idea about the veracity of “inspired by plot $x” arguments, but that’s not the point of copyright. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

madasahatter (profile) says:


One thing about copyright infringement I would think needs to be proved is the Brown in this case knew enough about the other work to have used its plot, etc. in his work. Given that both novels are speculative fiction set at the same time it is not too surprising that they have similarities. It is not as if the medieval source material (even if it is fictional itself) was unknown and medieval politics has been studied.

Dyspeptic Curmudgeon (profile) says:

English law

Firstly it looks like Penguin missed a great opportunity to respond to Dunn’s lawyers with: Our response is the same as was provided in Arkell v. Pressdram.
Secondly, copyright law is not libel law.
Thirdly, since Dunn is not a resident of the UK, Brown’s lawyers will assuredly move for an order for security for costs. Meaning Dunn will have to post a large chunk of money for a bond, to cover costs if he loses.
And fourthly, in the UK, the legal regime is that the loser paus the winner’s legal costs.
So how deep are Dunn’s pockets?

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