LONDON, Mar 16 (AFP): Two writers were warned they would be foolish to go ahead with a lawsuit accusing author Dan Brown of plagiarising their book to produce his bestseller, "The Da Vinci Code," a London court heard.
Patrick Janson-Smith told England's High Court in central London that he had told the agent for Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, who wrote "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail," that they had no basis for the legal action.
Janson-Smith, who worked for Random House when it published both books, said he had told the agent that the co-authors were "in danger of making fools of themselves" by suing Brown for breach of copyright.
He said he recognised the similarities between Baigent and Leigh's 1982 bestseller and Brown's 2003 novel, particularly his "joke" of creating a character called Sir Leigh Teabing from Leigh and Baigent's names.
"I assumed that because of the Sir Leigh Teabing character it was likely that Mister Brown had at some point been in correspondence with the authors or, if not, that it was simply his nod of respect to them.
"I never thought to raise any concerns about plagiarism," he told the court.
Janson-Smith explained that "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" claimed to be non-fiction, while "The Da Vinci Code" was a thriller.
"I thought the latter was a romping piece of good fiction. Like any thriller, no doubt it took ideas from any number of sources," he added.
In 2004, Janson-Smith said Baigent and Leigh's literary agent, Ann Evans, told him of the possibility of a breach of copyright claim.
"I think I dismissed the idea of a court action, questioning aloud on what grounds they thought they stood to mount such an action. I may have said something like 'Oh my God! Why the fuss? They wouldn't stand a prayer', or something similar," he said.
Evans rang again months later when there was talk of turning "The Da Vinci Code" into a film, he explained, saying she told him Baigent and Leigh were still minded to sue.
She told him they were concerned a film of Brown's novel would scupper the chances of a film of their work.
"I remember telling her that I thought the film rights to 'The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail' had been sold a long time ago and that nothing had come of it, that it was ancient history," he went on.
"I'm pretty certain that I reiterated the fact that I didn't think Baigent and Leigh had a leg to stand on and that they were in danger of making fools of themselves."
Brown has rejected as "completely fanciful" that he stole ideas for his book.