Decoding plagiarism | india | Hindustan Times
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Decoding plagiarism

A fortnight ago, authors Michael Baignet and Richard Leigh filed a lawsuit against publisher Random House, claiming that large chunks of Dan Brown?s The Da Vinci Code were plagiarised from their 1982 book about the Holy Grail.

india Updated: Mar 12, 2006 02:54 IST
Diya Koshy

A fortnight ago, authors Michael Baignet and Richard Leigh filed a lawsuit against publisher Random House, claiming that large chunks of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code were plagiarised from their 1982 book about the Holy Grail. Random House is the publisher for both Brown, and Leigh and Baignet.

While defence lawyers claim that the life of Christ is not restricted by copyright, the prosecution claims that Brown’s work borrows heavily from research done by Leigh and Baignet. The judge presiding over the case has even called the prosecution’s claim of a central theme a “moving feast”.

Where then does the line between inspiration and blatant imitation lie?

Kapish Mehra, publisher of Rupa & Co., says, “It is important to differentiate between an original idea and plots drawn from the same. Using a threadbare plot to create a completely different story would not constitute plagiarism.” Author Jerry Pinto agrees. “The problem,” he says, “is that you can accuse anyone of plagiarism. Mark Twain said that the number of ideas in the world is fixed. The only thing that differentiates inspiration from imitation is the person involved. Plagiarism is when one borrows an idea verbatim. It is intellectual theft.”

Writer Shobhaa De is a little less forgiving. “I don’t think there is any ambiguity in what plagiarism is. It is intellectual stealing. Plagiarism is when you steal an idea, work and words. It is shameful,” she says. Pinto, however, feels that ideas are intangible. He compares plagiarism to a quote by a US Supreme Court judge on distinguishing pornography from art — “I cannot define it but I know it when I see it.”

The flurry of media attention has only meant a boost in sales for both parties concerned. While The Da Vinci Code has sold more than 4 million copies in Great Britain itself over the past fortnight, there has been a sharp rise in sales for Leigh and Baignet’s The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. This has been attributed to the fact that people are buying the books to come to their own conclusions.

Before the trial, The Holy Blood had sold over 2 million copies, while The Da Vinci Code has sold over 40 million copies since its release in 2003.