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An ‘unprecedented effort’ to ‘profit from public service’: Bob Woodward wants judge to drop Donald Trump’s copyright complaint


Left: Bob Woodward seen promoting his third book on Donald Trump, Peril, on Good Morning America in New York City on September 20, 2021 Credit: RW/MediaPunch /IPX. Right: Former President Donald Trump arrives to board his airplane for a trip to a campaign rally in Waco, Texas on March 25, 2023 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci).

One of the nation’s foremost political journalists has asked a federal judge to dismiss former President Donald Trump’s nearly $50 million copyright lawsuit against him over a bestselling audiobook.

Trump sued Bob Woodward in January over the release of “The Trump Tapes: The Historical Record,” an October 2022 audiobook based on 19 interviews that had formed the basis of Woodward’s 2020 bestseller, “Rage.”

In a lawsuit filed in January, Trump alleged that Woodward had promised to use the tapes only for the book and that by using the tapes of the interviews, Woodward and publisher Simon & Schuster had “systematically, blatantly, and unlawfully usurped President Trump’s copyright interests, his contractual rights, and the rights he holds as an interviewee, through the publication of an audiobook […] predicated upon the subject audio — solely for their own financial gain and without any accounting or recompense to him.”

Trump’s complaint demanded $49.98 million “exclusive of punitive damages.”

On Monday, Woodward, through his lawyers, moved to have the case dropped. The motion to dismiss emphasized that Woodward — not Trump — was the driving force being the audiobook, from guiding the interviews with the former president to overseeing the editing of the tapes themselves for “sound production quality.” Under copyright law, the motion argues, that means that the copyright in the recordings belongs to Woodward.

“Drawing on decades of experience as a presidential interviewer, Woodward was the architect and true author of the Interviews — it was he who devised the questions, who decided when to press President Trump (or when to let him speak unchallenged), and who ultimately preserved the Interviews for posterity by tape recording them,” the motion says.

The audiobook itself “demonstrates that President Trump fully understood that he had no control over how Woodward used the Interviews,” the motion says. Trump acknowledged that he “could not tell Woodward what to write and could only ‘hope’ that he ‘write[s his] answer[s]’ fairly.

“Ugh,” Trump told Woodward at one point. “And in the end you’ll probably write a lousy book. What can I say? I respect you as an author.”

The filing also notes that Woodward had “frequently reminded President Trump that the calls were being recorded, and that “[a]t no point did President Trump object to being recorded, claim to own the Interviews, or state that Woodward was prohibited from using them after publishing his next book.”

The motion to dismiss accuses Trump of seeking to “profit from public service” by demanding nearly $50 million despite Woodward being the “sole copyright owner.”

Woodward’s filing also argues that the beneficiaries of the now-public interviews are Americans and not Trump.

“[T]he words a sitting President speaks while discussing his duties are not private property, but rather they belong to the People,” the motion says, noting that Trump is the first president in U.S. history to have “claimed to own a copyright in presidential interviews or demanded royalties for their republication.”

Trump hadn’t participated in Woodward’s previous book, the 2018 book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which emerged from interviews with members of the Trump administration — but not Trump himself. Trump apparently regretted that decision, telling Woodward that he “wish[ed] he met with [Woodward] for the last book.” The motion to dismiss notes that Woodward first heard from Trump “out of the blue” on Jan. 20, 2020, when he received a call from the “White House switchboard operator.”

The motion calls Trump’s copyright lawsuit an “unprecedented effort to extract private benefit from his public duties” and “should be dismissed in its entirety.”

Noting that in an interview with Woodward, Trump took credit for speeches by his aides because, in the former president’s words, “[t]he ideas are mine … Everything is mine.”

“Foreshadowing this lawsuit, the Work presents Woodward’s ‘central conclusion’ that ‘Trump does not believe in democracy’ and ‘treated the presidency like his own property,'” the motion adds.

U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, a George W. Bush appointee, is set to hear oral arguments on May 15, according to the federal docket.

Read Woodward’s motion to dismiss here.

Read Trump’s complaint here.

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