Baigent and Leigh v Random House Group Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
JudgeLord Justice Lloyd,Lord Justice Rix,Lord Justice Mummery
Judgment Date28 March 2007
Neutral Citation[2007] EWCA Civ 247
Date28 March 2007
Docket NumberCase No: A3 2006/0971

[2007] EWCA Civ 247







[2006] EWHC (Ch) 719

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL


Lord Justice Mummery

Lord Justice Rix and

Lord Justice Lloyd

Case No: A3 2006/0971

(1) Michael Baigent
(2) Richard Leigh
The Random House Group Limited
Defendant Respondent

Jonathan Rayner James Q.C. and Andrew Norris (instructed by Orchard Brayton Graham LLP) for the Appellants

John Baldwin Q.C. and James Abrahams (instructed by Arnold & Porter (UK) LLP) for the Respondent

Hearing dates: 16—19 January 2007

Lord Justice Lloyd



The Claimants are two of the three authors of a book published in 1982, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (HBHG). The Defendant is the publisher in the UK of a book written by Dan Brown, the Da Vinci Code (DVC), first published in 2003. The Claimants' contention is that, in writing DVC, Mr Brown infringed their copyright by copying a substantial part of HBHG in the course of writing six chapters of DVC. The case came to trial over 11 days in February and March 2006 before Mr Justice Peter Smith. In his judgment, delivered on 7 April 2006, he dismissed the claim: [2006] EWHC (Ch) 719. He also refused permission to appeal, but on the Claimants' application to the Court of Appeal, I granted permission to appeal on 13 June 2006.


It is not in dispute that HBHG is an original literary work in which copyright subsists, nor that the Claimants are two of the joint holders of the copyright. No point arises from the failure of the third, Mr Lincoln, to join them in bringing the proceedings. By virtue of section 16 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, it is an infringement of the Claimants' copyright for another person, without their licence, to copy HBHG or any substantial part of it, directly or indirectly. The Claimants' case is that Mr Brown derived the majority of six chapters of DVC from HBHG, that in so doing he copied part of HBHG, and that what he copied was a substantial part of HBHG.


The judge appears to have held that the six chapters were largely derived from HBHG, but he rejected the claim of copying. Not surprisingly after a lengthy trial, his judgment is long, running to some 70 pages. Remarkably, he delivered it less than three weeks after the end of the hearing. As was noted at the time, he was prompted by the extensive use in DVC of codes, and no doubt by his own interest in such things, to incorporate a coded message in his judgment, on which nothing turns. The judgment is not easy to read or to understand. It might have been preferable for him to have allowed himself more time for the preparation, checking and revision of the judgment.


The claim for breach of copyright is in some respects unusual, but it has to be tested by reference to the same principles as would be relevant in a more conventional case. If material is found in a later work which is also in an earlier copyright work, and it is shown that the author of the later work had access to the earlier work, an inference of copying is raised. Then it has to be considered whether there was in fact any copying, in relation to which the later author may say that he obtained the material from his own unaided efforts or from a different source. If it is found that any of the material common to both works was copied from the earlier work, then the question arises whether what was copied was a substantial part of the earlier work.


If the copyright work in question is a literary work, the allegation will normally be that part of the text of the earlier work was copied, exactly or with some modification, in the creation of the later work. In the present case that is not what is alleged as the basis for the claim in copyright infringement. What is said to have been copied is a theme of the copyright work. Copyright does not subsist in ideas; it protects the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. No clear principle is or could be laid down in the cases in order to tell whether what is sought to be protected is on the ideas side of the dividing line, or on the expression side.


The point was mentioned by Lord Hoffmann in the House of Lords in Designers' Guild Ltd v Russell Williams (Textiles) Ltd [2000] 1 W.L.R. 2416, at paragraph 24, which concerned artistic copyright:

“there are numerous authorities which show that the “part” which is regarded as substantial can be a feature or combination of features of the work, abstracted from it rather than forming a discrete part. That is what the judge found to have been copied in this case. Or to take another example, the original elements in the plot of a play or novel may be a substantial part, so that copyright may be infringed by a work which does not reproduce a single sentence of the original. If one asks what is being protected in such a case, it is difficult to give any answer except that it is an idea expressed in the copyright work.”

Lord Hoffmann addressed the point usefully in paragraphs 25 and 26 as well:

“25. … The other proposition is that certain ideas expressed by a copyright work may not be protected because, although they are ideas of a literary, dramatic or artistic nature, they are not original, or so commonplace as not to form a substantial part of the work.

26. Generally speaking, in cases of artistic copyright, the more abstract and simple the copied idea, the less likely it is to constitute a substantial part. Originality, in the sense of the contribution of the author's skill and labour, tends to lie in the detail with which the basic idea is presented.”

Lord Scott made a similar point at paragraph 64, quoting first a test proposed in Laddie, Prescott & Vitoria, The Modern Law of Copyright, to determine whether an altered copy constitutes an infringement:

“'Has the infringer incorporated a substantial part of the independent skill, labour etc contributed by the original author in creating the copyright work?'

My Lords, I think this is a useful test, based as it is on an underlying principle of copyright law that a copier is not at liberty to appropriate the benefit of another's skill and labour.”


Accordingly, the judge had to consider:

i) what relevant material was to be found in both works;

ii) how much, if any, of that had been copied from HBHG;

iii) whether what was so copied was on the copyright side of the line between ideas and expression; and

iv) whether any of the material that was copied and did qualify as expression, rather than as ideas, amounted to a substantial part of HBHG.

The third and fourth of these issues, as often, are interconnected.


If, by applying those tests, the judge found that a substantial part of HBHG had been copied by Mr Brown in writing DVC, it was irrelevant to consider Mr Brown's intention in so doing. Breach of copyright does not depend on the intention or state of mind of the alleged infringer.


Each of the two books in question contains a great deal of material which is not in the other. It was necessary for the Claimants to identify what they said had been copied, and to identify the material which they relied on as supporting their allegation of copying. It was all the more necessary for this to be done, and done clearly, given the non-textual nature of the infringement which they alleged. The judge referred to the history of the Claimants' attempts to formulate their case in this respect. I do not need to go further back than the Claimants' Voluntary Supplemental Schedule (VSS) and an order made by Lewison J on 27 October 2005. In paragraph 3 of the Amended Particulars of Claim the Claimants allege that HBHG “expresses a central theme”, set out in an Annex to the statement of case. (It is also set out as an Appendix to this judgment.) The VSS sets out the Central Theme in 15 elements, and identifies in separate columns in relation to each element the passages relied on in each work for showing that the particular element is in it. Lewison J's order recorded that

“the only matter complained of by the Claimants in this case is the matter expressly set out in the 15 Central Theme points of [the VSS]”

and that the only purpose of the material in the respective columns was to show that the matter contained in the particular element is in each work and, as regards DVC, to support the allegation of copying that material. Any matter set out in the passages quoted which does not relate to the corresponding Central Theme point is recorded to be irrelevant.


In the course of the trial the formulation of the Claimants' case underwent further scrutiny and clarification. They confirmed that they did not rely on any special feature by way of the architecture of the Central Theme, or the collocation of the several elements in it, other than the natural chronological sequence of the elements.


In section K of his judgment, paragraphs 272 to 292, the judge compared the two books by reference to the fifteen Central Theme elements. He came to the conclusion that elements 10, 11 and 13 were not to be found in DVC, and that element 14 was not to be found in HBHG. On that basis, those four elements were to be disregarded as regards any question of copying. In effect, the judge was there going through the task of establishing whether the material said to have been copied was (a) in the copyright work itself and, if so, (b) also in the work alleged to infringe that copyright.


As regards the other eleven elements, since they were to be found in both works, and since it was not...

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