Lawyers Try To Crack Judge's Secret Message
London, April 27, 2006 -- The judge who presided at the "Da Vinci Code" copyright infringement trial has put a code of his own into his ruling, and he said Wednesday he would "probably" confirm it to the person who breaks it.
Since Judge Peter Smith delivered his ruling April 7th in favor of Dan Brown, the author of "The Da Vinci Code," lawyers in London and New York began noticing odd italicizations in the seventy-one page document.
In the weeks afterward, would be code breakers got to work on deciphering Smith's code.
"I can't discuss the judgment," Smith said in a brief conversation with The Associated Press, "but I don't see why a judgment should not be a matter of fun."
Italics are placed in strange spots: The first is found in the first paragraph of the 360 paragraph document. The letter "s" in the word "claimants" is italicized.
In the next paragraph, "claimant" is spelled with an italicized "m," and so on.
The italicized letters in the first seven paragraphs spell out "Smithy code," playing on the judge's name.
Lawyer Dan Tench, with the London firm Olswang, said he noticed the code when he spotted the striking italicized script in an online copy of the judgment.
"To encrypt a message in this manner, in a High Court judgment no less? It's out there," Tench said. "I think he was getting into the spirit of the thing. It doesn't take away from the validity of the judgment. He was just having a bit of fun."
Smith was arguably the highlight of the trial, with his acerbic questions and witty observations making the sometimes dry testimony more lively. Though Smith on Wednesday refused to discuss the judgment or acknowledge outright that he'd inserted a secret code in its pages, he said: "They don't look like typos, do they?"
When asked if someone would break the code, Smith said: "I don't know. It's not a difficult thing to do." And when asked if he would confirm a correct guess to an aspiring code-breaker, he said, "Probably."
Tench said the judge teasingly remarked that the code is a mixture of the italicized font code found in the "The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail" whose authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh unsuccessfully sued Brown's publisher, Random House Inc., for copyright infringement and the code found in Brown's "The Da Vinci Code."
Baigent and Leigh had argued Brown's best selling novel "appropriated the architecture" of their 1982 nonfiction book. Smith rejected the argument, saying the lawsuit was based on a contrived and "selective number of facts and ideas."
Both books explore theories that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, the couple had a child and the bloodline survives, ideas dismissed by most historians and theologians.
"The Da Vinci Code" has sold more than forty million copies including twelve million hardcovers in the United States since its release in March 2003. It came out in paperback in the United States earlier this year, and quickly sold more than 500,000 copies. An initial print run of five million has already been raised to six million.
Since the judgment was handed down, Tench said it took several weeks and several watchful eyes to catch the code. Now, London and New York attorneys are scrambling to solve it.
"I think it has caught the particular imagination of Americans," Tench said. "To have a British, staid High Court judge encrypt a judgment in this manner, it's jolly fun."
After the "Smithy Code" series, there are an additional twenty-five jumbled letters contained in the first fourteen pages of the document, Tench said, adding that he thinks the series can be decoded using an anagram or an alphabet inspired code breaking device. Known as a codex, the system is also found in Brown's novel.
A codex uses the letters of the alphabet and matches them with an additional set of letters placed in a different order, dubbed a substitution cipher. It is derived from a scene in the novel in which Harvard professor Robert Langdon and French cryptographer Sophie Neveu use the code to try to unravel the location of the Holy Grail, using a device invented by Leonardo Da Vinci for transporting secret messages.
"I'm definitely going to try to break the code," said attorney Mark Stephens, when learning of its existence.
"Judges have been known to write very sophisticated and amusing judgments," Stephens said. "This trend started long ago one did a judgment in rhyme, another in couplets. There has been precedent for this.
"It adds a bit of fun of what might have been a dusty text," he said.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
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