Monday, February 27, 2006

Another ripple in the pond

What will it mean to the future of publishing when authors like James Frey lie, and authors like Dan Brown are taken to court for charges of stealing other author's work for the popular The DaVinci Code?

My usual post is below, but when I saw this I was shocked to think that we have had so many scandals in the writing world recently. I can't help but wonder if this is some twisted effort to raise authors to the newsworthy level of Hollywood celebrities, or if reckless authors (be it the writer charged or the writers making the charge - I don't know which) are going to undermine the publishing business as a whole.

Your thoughts?


Christa M. Miller said...

I think it worries me a little bit more that ultimately no one cares. Frey will still sell millions. I doubt the suit against Dan Brown will last. And although authors like Doris Kearns Goodwin were found to have lifted text without citing, it didn't hurt their sales any. Add that to a mass epidemic of cheating on papers in high school and college (and parents who back the kids up), and you have a culture where the definition of intellectual property is as blurry as the definition of "is."

Anonymous said...

These, "you stole my idea" suits really get under my skin. The space between an idea and a good novel is bottomless chasm. All ideas can be traced to other stories, people, and places. I remember when the state of Kentucky aggressively enforced a supposed trademark in the name "Kentucky." The result? Kentucky Fried Chicken became "KFC" so they didn't have to fight about royalties. Neil Diamond doesn't sing his song with Kentucky in the title. People are just out for money. If these historians were ripped off, then where are their novels?

Once I thought of story where someone murdered someone. Am I due a court settlement for all the mysteries written. Where do you draw the line?

Copyright infringement should be about copying text.

JamesO said...

Apologies for the theft. I started out on a comment for this, then decided to make it a post after it got too big.

Basically it's all about the money. Dan Brown and The DaVinci Code are great big cash cows right now. That's the only reason they're being sued.

As Jason says - copyright infringement should be about stealing that actual words, sentences and sometimes whole chapters of another author without their permission or acknowledgement.

Sandra Ruttan said...

No apology necessary.

Just have your lawyer call mine.

E. Ann Bardawill said...


Actually, according to his blog on this. one of the authors, Lew Perdue(?), was sued by Random House first, not the other was around.
He's got a blog about his legal situation called the Da Vinci Crock, or something.
It's worth a google to read it.

The other two fellas are non-fiction authors from England and Brown does mention them and their work in the Da Vinci code.

I will be fascinated to see how things work out.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

This actually opens up a really good question. The non-fiction book is "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", where the authors outline a bunch of spurious proof linking the Templars to the possibility that Christ didn't actually die, but instead was spirited away to the Merovingian Alps, where he fathered children.

So the question is, did Brown steal their idea, or just use their book for research? Can one copyright an idea, and can someone use an idea posited in a non-fiction book to write fiction?

Personally, I think this one's going to get tossed out. There's simply too much prior history going against them. The fact that they're suing Dan Brown, and no one else for this (D.C. Comics covered similar territory in their series Preacher) I think will hurt them.

Sandra Ruttan said...

That's a really interesting point Stephen. It does make it look, on the surface, like a cash grab.

I realize that I don't know enough to have a conclusive opinion about this at all. I haven't read The DaVinci Code, and won't, because I have good reason to believe I would find it religiously offensive. Not to mention I'm not interested in getting drawn into the debate about whether or not it's bad writing.

But I'm concerned by recent lawsuits, and I wonder how much damage it will do to the publishing industry. In particular, if a lawsuit is seen as a cashgrab, then it must give us all pause when we think about being really successful... Does high sales automatically mean we'll get a target painted on our back?

Stephen Blackmoore said...

"I haven't read The DaVinci Code, and won't..." Trust me, you're not missing anything. If you have strong religious views it will probably offend you. And as a writer it will definitely offend you. It's crap.

"Does high sales automatically mean we'll get a target painted on our back?"

I think any high profile success will bring out the vultures. What I find interesting about this is that their book, "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" had been relegated to a largely fringe segment of the reading public. And, yes, I am part of that fringe segment of the reading public.

Once the DaVinci Code became popular, though everybody and their uncle's buying this thing. If Brown hadn't written the book, their book would be commanding bargain bin prices in the backs of used bookstores.

Personally, I figure if someone wants to sue me because a book does so well, I figure I've arrived.

Sandra Ruttan said...

That's definitely one way to look at it!

And you're right - the success of one book can contribute to sales of another.

This is why in the music bus, you don't take tapes from aspiring songwriters and such. You're so vulnerable to being sued.

Makes me wonder about looking at aspiring author's work...

Kate said...

"In particular, if a lawsuit is seen as a cashgrab, then it must give us all pause when we think about being really successful..."

I wouldn't let it stop you!