PENSACOLA, Fla. (WMBB) — President Donald Trump can’t sue a journalist for publishing audio recordings of interviews with him because he is a government employee and his words are owned by the American people.
That’s one of the arguments made by attorneys for Bob Woodward, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper reporter, who has written books about American presidents since Richard Nixon. He has also interviewed presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, while they were in office.
For his book, Rage, Woodward interviewed Trump 19 times. Then, after publishing a book and an audiobook based on the interviews with the 45th President and others inside his administration Trump filed a civil suit in Pensacola. Trump’s team argues that he is owed at least $49 million, plus millions more in damages because Woodward violated a verbal agreement that the interviews would only be published as a book and in no other form.
In a motion to dismiss filed this week, Woodward’s team argues that the case should be thrown out for a host of reasons. One of their main arguments is that President Trump granted the interviews while serving the country.
“The work product of government representatives—including the President—is common property that exists to benefit the public, not an emolument to be exploited for personal gain,” the motion states. “In sum, President Trump’s contributions to the interviews for “the historical record” are government works that copyright law bars him from owning in a personal capacity.”
While the men did agree that Woodward would not publish the interviews in a newspaper, and would instead save them for a book, they did not agree on any limitations on the final form of the work, the motion states. Trump himself understood the agreement, the motion argues.
“President Trump acknowledged his lack of control: ‘Ugh. And in the end, you’ll probably write a lousy book. What can I say? I respect you as an author,'” the motion states. “TRUMP: ‘You’re probably going to screw me. Because, you know, that’s the way it goes.'”
They also argue that American copyright law grants the copyright to the journalist in every instance and not to interview subjects. The book contains much more than Trump’s interviews, it also contains interviews with others and commentary by Woodward.
They add that one of the most important interviews in “Rage” “wasn’t with Trump” but with National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger.
“Those interviews revealed that O’Brien and Pottinger gave a “stark, dramatic warning” very early in the pandemic about the dangers of the coronavirus,” the motion states. “Woodward then documents how President Trump largely ignored these warnings—at great cost to human life—by reviewing inculpatory statements President Trump made in the interviews and elsewhere.”
If Trump is granted copyright over interviews he gave while in office the negative impact would be substantial, the motion states.
“Copyright equates to legal control over expression and requiring journalists to negotiate authorship rights away from interviewees, particularly public officials, would invite contractual censorship of criticism and chill open discourse,” Woodward’s attorneys wrote. “Any decision granting President Trump private ownership of his statements to the press as President would stymie discussion of his place in American history and contradict the long tradition of opening up a President’s words to public scrutiny.”