As the saying goes in the legal world, anyone can sue a ham sandwich if they’d like. It’s a maxim that Donald Trump took to heart.
On Monday attorneys for Donald J. Trump filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida against journalist Bob Woodward; his publisher, Simon & Schuster; and its parent company, Paramount Global, for what the former president says is copyright infringement.
Trump claims that, while he agreed to let Woodward record him for his book, later titled Rage, he did not consent to the recordings being packaged for the audiobook.
The former president is asking for no less than $49 million, based on his legal team’s calculation that the audiobook will likely sell around 2 million copies at just under $25 per copy. This would mean that Trump figures that 98% of the gross should go to him.
Trump’s voice cannot only be heard on the audiobook but, in ways, in the lawsuit filing itself.
“Woodward appears to have had no intention to release an audiobook when initially recording President Trump,” one part reads, “such a decision arose much later, after the complete and total failure of Rage.”
That statement is demonstrably untrue, as pointed out by NPR’s David Gura:
In his lawsuit against Bob Woodward, President Trump calls "RAGE" "a complete and total failure."
In its first week, the book debuted as a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, sold 600,000 copies, and Simon & Schuster ordered a 4th printing. pic.twitter.com/9W5UyG9pEP
— David Gura (@davidgura) January 30, 2023
The former president and current 2024 contender for the Republican nomination has a history of trying to silence journalists with lawsuits.
After Tim O’Brien’s 2005 biography referred to Trump as a millionaire instead of a billionaire, for instance, Trump took the author to court, claiming vast damage to his reputation.
That suit was tossed out after the reality TV star was unable to demonstrate that he was more than a millionaire.
Trump has also sued The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN due to their coverage of the Russia investigation and editorials that they printed regarding the same.
He’s also in the middle of a suit against his niece, Mary Trump, for her submission of some of his tax information to the Times, which is named in that suit as well.
His lawyers must never tire of paying sanctions or getting disbarred for frivolous lawfare. https://t.co/Dps5ObQAEN
— Ron Filipkowski 🇺🇦 (@RonFilipkowski) January 30, 2023
His case against Woodward and Simon & Schuster could be an uphill battle.
Trump’s lawyers would have to show not only that he did not agree to have his voice used for the audiobook, but that having the words in his own voice — rather than read by a narrator — had a high value and was critical to sales.
Otherwise, even if there was a potential award, it could be nominal.
We’re also yet to see what evidence Woodward might produce to prove that he had full consent.
It’s possible, too, that a judge could just find it beyond credulity that Trump consented to be interviewed for the book, but did not anticipate that his voice would be included in the audiobook version.
If the case is thrown out, Trump risks having only served to amplify Woodward’s message, as this tweeter pointed out:
Am I the only one who thinks Trump is an idiot for suing Bob Woodward for making an audio book of the tapes he agreed to? He’s just amplifying them, meaning more of the ignorant fools who support him will hear them. And he’ll still be laughed out of court.
— (((Elis Madison))) (@ElisMadison) January 30, 2023
Yet it’s possible that Trump doesn’t have money so much in mind as inspiring fear: print anything negative about me, and you may be hit with a massive lawsuit.
Such a tactic could hamper or even paralyze networks and journalists who might otherwise produce stories critical of the candidate, especially if they don’t have the resources to fight back.
Follow Ross on Twitter by clicking on @RossRosenfeld.