By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – The American journalist Bob Woodward is seeking to end former President Donald Trump’s nearly $50 million lawsuit for publishing tapes from interviews for Woodward’s 2020 best-seller “Rage” as an audiobook.
Woodward, his publisher Simon & Schuster and the publisher’s parent Paramount Global filed a motion to dismiss Trump’s lawsuit on Monday in Manhattan federal court, where the case had been transferred last month from Pensacola, Florida.
The defendants said no president before Trump ever demanded royalties for publishing presidential interviews, and federal law barred him from copyrighting interviews conducted as part of his official duties.
They also called Woodward the “sole architect and true author” of his interviews with Trump, just as journalists like the late Walter Cronkite and Barbara Walters were in interviews with other presidents.
This long tradition of candid reporting depends on an axiomatic principle–reflected in copyright law’s prohibition on private ownership of government works–that the words a sitting President speaks about the discharge of his office belong to the People,” the filing said.
The defendants also said Woodward made fair use of Trump’s interviews, calling it “classic news reporting” that advanced “the need to convey information to the public accurately.”
Robert Garson, a lawyer for Trump, declined to comment on Tuesday.
Woodward interviewed Trump 19 times between Dec. 2019 and Aug. 2020, and about 20% of “Rage” came from the interviews.
The book was released in Sept. 2020, while the audiobook “The Trump Tapes,” including Woodward’s commentary, was released in Oct. 2022.
Trump sued in January, claiming he told Woodward numerous times that the interviews were meant solely for the “written word,” meaning the book.
The $49.98 million damages request was based on what Trump’s lawyers called projected sales of 2 million audiobooks at $24.99 each.
Woodward said he never promised to use the interviews only for “Rage,” and had no obligation to mothball them.
Trump holds a dominant lead in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Paramount agreed last month to sell Simon & Schuster to private equity firm KKR for $1.62 billion in cash, subject to regulatory approvals.
The case is Trump v Simon & Schuster Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 23-06883.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)