Author Dan Brown has appeared in a London court at the start of a trial in which two historians say he copied their work to write the best-seller, The Da Vinci Code, and are suing his British publisher.
Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent are suing their own publisher Random House for lifting "the whole architecture" of the research that went into their 1982 non-fiction book The Holy Blood, and the Holy Grail, itself a bestseller.
Brown's religious thriller has more than 36 million copies in print worldwide and has upset Catholics for suggesting Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child by her.
The same theory is put forward in The Holy Blood, and the Holy Grail.
Lawyers on both sides of the case have declined to comment on how the trial might affect sales of the hugely successful novel or the distribution of a major Hollywood adaptation which Sony Pictures plans to release in May.
Jonathan James, representing Baigent and Leigh, told the High Court on Monday that "... Dan Brown copied from The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and therefore the publication of the result by the defendant is in infringement of the copyright of my client in the United Kingdom."
Leigh (L) and Baigent (R) accuse
author Dan Brown of copying
Random House, owned by German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, has dismissed the claim as "without merit", and succeeded last October in having a "substantial" part of the case made by the historians dropped.
Commentators have pointed out that a major character in 41-year-old Brown's book, Sir Leigh Teabing, has a name that is an anagram of Leigh and Baigent.
A third author of the 1982 book, Henry Lincoln, has decided to stay out of the action.
Last August, Brown won a court ruling against another writer, Lewis Perdue, who claimed The Da Vinci Code copied elements of two of his novels, Daughter of God and The Da Vinci Legacy.
Perdue had sought $150 million in damages and asked the court to block distribution of the book and the movie adaptation, which features Tom Hanks alongside French actress Audrey Tautou.