As mentioned in today's news briefs, the "Da Vinci Court Case" has kicked off in London, with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh - authors of the 'alternative history' bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail (HBHG) - sueing Dan Brown over copyright infringement in his own bestseller The Da Vinci Code (DVC). The Times has a good summary of the arguments behind the case, which are well worth pondering, while The Guardian covers the events of the day.
The case could have huge ramifications for writers, for if Baigent and Leigh win it could raise serious concerns about how to integrate previous research into new material. If someone was to write a novel detailing the controversies at Giza, do they therefore avoid specific theories such as West and Schoch's Sphinx weathering hypothesis, as it could be counted as similar to Baigent and Leigh's "historical conjecture". That term may be significant - ironically, it would appear difficult for B&L to win their case unless they state that their research is not fact, but only conjecture (as objective facts are not copyrightable).
As such, it's difficult to have empathy for B&L - especially considering that the success of DVC has pulled HBHG out of obscurity (after initially selling millions in the 80s), and kept it solidly within Amazon's top 1000 for the past few years. On the other hand, perhaps there is something to their claim...if you were to uncover some fascinating threads of history, put it in book form and only sell a few copies - would you then want to sue an author who took your work and made many millions of dollars from it?
Whatever the outcome, it's likely that the publicity may be more than enough to compensate for the costs of B&L's court case, and will also contribute further to DVC sales and income. As of today, HBHG is at its highest ever Amazon ranking (#9), and is not far from pushing into the top 5 and challenging DVC itself (#4). Perhaps the biggest winner out of all this will be Random House - who publish both books...