Monday, November 20, 2006

DVC Plagiarism Trial Latest – The Bottom Line

American author Lewis Perdue has lost his appeals suit against Random House for plagiarism. Perdue had claimed Dan Brown's TDVC bore many unfair similarities to his 2000 thriller Daughter of God. The background to the case was told most fully in a Vanity Fair article this summer, ‘The Da Vinci Clone?’. It was by a journalist Perdue had contacted earlier after he wrote a short Newsweek article on the claim. He began looking into the case, and found it full of oddities. Perdue said he was being sent strange emails by someone called “Ahamedd Saaddodeen” – who turned out to have a similar social-security number and former addresses as Blythe Brown. (Perdue had also set up websites attacking Brown and publicizing his case.) Though contacting opposition witnesses is not appropriate during a court case, this was evidently never followed up.
Perdue had also lost the case without ever getting a chance to present any evidence of plagiarism. (He had engaged a UCLA professor and the director of Britain's Forensic Linguistics Institute, who called it “the most blatant example of in-your-face plagiarism I've ever seen.") In a pre-emptive move, Random House had actually sued him to get a ‘declaratory judgment’ no copyright infringement had occurred. They went to a NY court that does not accept expert affidavits, whereas the Californian court where Perdue would have filed his suit does. Perdue appealed to the Supreme Court., claiming there was a constitutional inequality here. The Supreme Court declined to overturn this irregularity, leaving the present ‘postcode lottery’ system in place.
The local judge had announced that he would simply read the two thrillers himself and base his ruling on that. At the time, the NY Times had just attacked the judge for always being behind with his paperwork, but he produced a verdict here without delay, dismissing Perdue’s claim as without merit. Perdue ran his judgement text through an online plagiarism detector … and found some of the judge’s written judgement was copied from RH’s own synopses of the two novels’ plotlines (which emphasised their dissimilarity).
When the two co-authors of HBHG brought their claim last summer against RH over DVC, something similar may have happened here, as far as the court reporting went. Fortean Times magazine reported that some journalists were simply basing their reports on how the trial went that day on the defendant Random House’s own daily press releases. Though the HBHG duo lost, they obtained enough evidence to get leave to appeal, with the hearing set for January. It’s not likely they’ll succeed as appeals courts only rule on the fairness of the original trial and not on the merits of the claim. They did extract some damaging evidence from cross-examination, but their own succcesive statements of claim were at variance with another. The judge did say he didn’t believe Dan Brown’s testimony he only read HBHG late in his research, and said Blythe Brown’s failure to appear impeded the case. (It became apparent Dan Brown had little idea where a lot of the research had come from, beyond Blythe.)
Of course the two appellant authors may also be able to claim the judge didn’t manage the case properly – perhaps was celebrity-struck. Mr Justice Smith turned the case ultimately into a game by writing his own “Smithy Code” into the judgement to promote his own hero, an Edwardian admiral named Jacky Fisher. He’s now created another ‘Smithy Code’, having dismissed complaints about his behaviour as ‘pompous,’ saying his codes ‘would generate interest in the law and help people to understand it was "not quite the remote dry atmosphere that is often portrayed by those who have axes to grind".’ (He didn’t elaborate on who these axe-grinding propagandists were.) He told the BBC [Nov 6] the rather ‘brisk’ way (reducing QCs to stammers and speechlessness) he conducted the case was "the modern way", judges being "a modern dynamic group". He said he was not only invited to the film premiere of The Da Vinci Code, but had presided over other important (i.e. celebrity) cases, such as one over “Kylie Minogue's bottom.”