As expected, lawyers for Simon & Schuster and bestselling author Bob Woodward have filed two new motions to dismiss an amended $50 million lawsuit filed by former president Donald Trump, which alleges that Woodward and S&S breached Trump’s copyright interests by publishing The Trump Tapes: The Historical Record.
First filed in January (and amended on April 24), Trump’s complaint accuses Woodward of "systematic usurpation, manipulation, and exploitation of audio of President Trump" gathered in connection with a series of interviews initially recorded for Woodward’s 2021 book Rage: "Said audio was protected material, subject to various limitations on use and distribution—as a matter of copyright, license, contract, basic principles of the publishing industry, and core values of fairness and consent.” The suit seeks a declaratory judgment acknowledging Trump's "full copyright interest" in the recordings and all works derived from the recordings. And, based on some very murky math, it seeks "compensatory, punitive damages and disgorgement" of "at least $49,980,000."
In early April, lawyers for Woodward and S&S filed two motions to have the case tossed, one arguing that the suit was filed in an improper venue—in the Northern District of Florida—and one focused more the on the merits (or lack thereof) of Trump's copyright claims. The new motions to dismiss, necessitated by Trump's amended complaint, plead a nearly identical defense on the merits: that the interviews were conducted while Trump was acting in his capacity as president of the United States and that he therefore holds no copyright interest in the interviews, and that there is no contract or agreement stating otherwise.
"As if on a mission to prove this 'everything is mine' thesis, Donald Trump, 'in his individual capacity,' asserts that he owns Woodward’s entire Work because it includes words spoken by 'President Trump, 45th President of the United States of America.' And President Trump seeks to profit from his public service by demanding defendants pay him nearly $50 million. But the amended complaint ignores Woodward’s role as the author of both the interviews and the work. Further, this lawsuit offends the basic principle codified in the Copyright Act that government officials cannot own the words they speak while carrying out official duties," the motion to dismiss states. "President Trump’s unprecedented effort to extract private benefit from his public duties should be dismissed in its entirety."
The suit is yet another in a string of futile legal battles undertaken against against publishers by Trump, many involving S&S. In 2020, Trump's Department of Justice sued to block former national security adviser John Bolton’s S&S-published memoir, The Room Where It Happened. The suit failed, and the book would go on to become a bestseller. After a year of litigation, the DOJ eventually dropped subsequent criminal and civil lawsuits against Bolton.
A month later, in July 2020, Trump unsuccessfully sued Simon & Schuster and his niece, author Mary Trump, in New York state court seeking to block publication of her memoir Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man. The book would go on to sell more than a million copies.
And in January 2023, Trump threatened to sue S&S and former New York criminal prosecutor Mark Pomerantz over the forthcoming publication of Pomerantz's People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account.
As of press time, a schedule has not yet been set to hear the motions, although the court in a May 18 order agreed to suspend discovery in the case while the motions are decided.