‘Code’ cleared in London

U.K. judge rules in favor of Brown

NEW YORK — A London judge ruled Friday that Dan Brown did not plagiarize the nonfiction tome “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” clearing the way for the release of Sony’s “The Da Vinci Code” on schedule next month.

Two authors of the 1982 book, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, had sued Brown’s publisher, Random House, alleging that key facts from their book about Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been illegally used in Brown’s bestselling novel “The Da Vinci Code.”

Defense argued Brown used them fairly and had even acknowledged the book’s role in preparing his novel.

The decision came from Judge Peter Smith at London’s High Court with the comment, “Dan Brown has not infringed copyright. None of this amounts to copying ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.’ ”

Even as one obstacle for the film was being removed Stateside, however, another cropped up overseas.

Over the weekend, the Christian Council of Korea filed a motion to block distribution of the film in that country on religious grounds.

Sony is set to distribute the movie in South Korea through local arm Sony Pictures Releasing of Korea.

Movie premieres May 17 at the Cannes Film Festival and opens day-and-date in many countries two days later.

As to the resolution of the London case, studio released a statement saying, “While we were not a party to this lawsuit, we’re pleased by this result, and as we’ve been saying all along, we are proceeding with our plans for the release of the film on May 19.”

While it was unlikely the movie would have been delayed, a legal victory for the plaintiffs could have put a crimp in studio’s marketing plans.

Sony is planning a big marketing campaign for the pic. “The Da Vinci Code” is thought to be key to the studio’s fortunes this year.

Some had criticized the lawsuit as lacking merit since the research was widely available — and since Brown acknowledged in his book that he had used the authors’ work. But legal experts said the suit was still significant because it would help set the acceptable standard for using other authors’ work in a fiction tome.

In his post-trial comments, Brown did not relent. “I’m still astonished that these two authors chose to file their suit at all,” he said.

The trial fascinated many because the normally tight-lipped author offered testimony about his work habits, including the tidbit that his wife does much of the detailed research and he constructs the narrative.

As the news came down in the U.K., some disagreement has broken out Stateside over sales figures for the new paperback edition of “The Da Vinci Code.”

Random House paperback imprint Vintage announced a first printing of 5 million copies, and the publisher touted a half-million copies sold in the first week.

But point-of-sale tallier BookScan reported about 186,000 copies had sold to consumers in the first five days. The service is generally thought to cover about three-quarters of sales — and does not include Wal-Mart.

On Friday, Vintage released a statement saying the service tallied 40% of sales and undercounted in key mass-market areas. The imprint also said it was printing an additional 1 million copies.

Perhaps most remarkable is that the book continued to sell in hardcover — an additional 13,000 copies — even as the lower-cost version came out.