I know some of you think I’m Ahab to Murray Chass’s Dick. That’s not the first time I’ve been accused of white whaling a guy: former Times editor Howell Raines was convinced my coverage of the disastrous consequences of his nightmarish tenure stemmed from some made-up grudge. And there’s Dan Brown, the well-known composer of soft-rock paeans to phone sex operators: I’ve intermittently covered a case in which he’s been accused of plagiarism since 2003, first at Newsweek, more recently at Vanity Fair; Brown’s publisher, agent, and lawyer have all intimated I have it out for the guy. (If anything, I think there should be more songs about phone sex.)
The crux of that case is this: Lewis Perdue, author of Daughter of God and Da Vinci Legacy (among other thrillers), thought Brown had cribbed The Da Vinci Code from his work. When I read the two books, I thought Perdue had a point; unlike the laughably preposterous Holy Blood, Holy Grail case (which was brought to trial in London), Perdue’s book and Brown’s book were remarkably similar, at least to my eyes (which admittedly haven’t spent a lot of time reading religious-themed page-turners). It’s a weird, complicated case, which Perdue eventually lost — a pretty resounding defeat, actually — and to get the full rundown you’ll probably need to read the VF story.
There is some new news in the case, and, since I always find it weird when people make a big deal out of stories and then never follow up, here it is. After Perdue lost his case in Federal Court, Random House asked for approximately $300,000 in attorney’s fees, an amount which would more or less bankrupt Perdue (but wouldn’t add much to the hundreds of millions of dollars Brown and Random House have made off Da Vinci Code). On August 30, a court-appointed magistrate recommended against attorney’s fees being awarded; last week, the federal judge in the case — the same one that had ruled against Perdue — agreed. This is interesting for a couple of reasons:
1. It means that, while Perdue may have spent a couple of years of his life devoted to this, he won’t risk losing his house.
2. The federally appointed magistrate, in his carefully worded ruling, appeared to come close to disagreeing with the judge’s initial decision. (Without getting into specifics of summary and declaratory judgments, the initial decision essentially ruled that Perdue didn’t even have the right to have his claim heard before a jury because there was no way he’d win.) To wit: “Although it is true that, after a thorough review of each of the factors described above the court determined that an average lay observer would conclude that The Da Vinci Code ‘is simply a different story than that told by Daughter of God,’ Perdue proffered e-mail he received from ‘lay observers,’ who claimed Brown had ‘plagiarized’ Perdueâ€šÃ„Ã´s work. In addition, a forensic linguist also supported Perdueâ€šÃ„Ã´s claims. Moreover, the Court notes that, although the August 4 Opinion is a sweeping rejection of all Perdueâ€šÃ„Ã´s allegations of similarity, the court neither characterized Perdueâ€šÃ„Ã´s claims as frivolous nor stated that they were close to frivolous. Therefore, the Court finds that Perdueâ€šÃ„Ã´s counterclaims were objectively reasonable.” (Caveat emptor: I’m no lawyer, and often find the legal world through-the-looking-glass weird. For example, I thought it strange that the judge in the case borrowed huge sections, word-for-word, from the Random House/Brown brief in his ruling in favor of Random House/Brown; in journalism (or academia), that’s the kind of thing that would get you, you know, fired. But apparently this is not out of the ordinary in rulings. Go figure.)
3. It’s always amusing when a request for $300,000 gets knocked down to $256.13, which is what the judge eventually ruled for.
At this point, the case is pretty much over…although in August, Perdue did ask the Supreme Court to look at the case, which is the only way he can get it reexamined. All of those details — and many, many more — are available on one of the several sites Perdue maintains devoted to the case. (Speaking of white whales…)