Monday, December 12, 2022


CNN reports that Donald Trump plans to publish a new book next year:
Former President Donald Trump is planning to release a book next year showcasing his private correspondence with past and present celebrities and international icons, CNN has learned.

... His newest book will contain reproductions of letters written to, or by, Trump over the last few decades....

Trump’s correspondence with singer-songwriter Elton John, the late entertainer Michael Jackson and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, are expected to be included, sources said.
So this won't just be a book of letters written by Trump (or by Trump employees ghost-writing words on his behalf). It will include letters to Trump -- letters written by extremely famous people.

Do you think Trump realizes that he doesn't have the legal right to publish the contents of these letters just because he has them in his files?

You might assume that if you possess a letter -- a piece of paper sent to you by another person -- then you own not only the letter itself but the right to publish the contents of the letter. There was a time when authors and book publishers operated on that assumption as well. Then a man named Ian Hamilton set out to publish a biography of the reclusive author J.D. Salinger, relying in part on letters written by Salinger that were kept in university collections and made available to scholars. Salinger sued:
The letters were quoted extensively in a draft [of the biography] that went out to reviewers and that was planned for publication by Random House. When Salinger’s agent, Dorothy Olding, passed along an uncorrected proof to the author in late 1986, he formally registered his copyright in the letters and told his lawyer to object to the publication of the book until all contents from the unpublished letters had been removed. Hamilton acquiesced and revised many of the letter excerpts into close paraphrases.... they didn’t appease Salinger and he sued Random House for copyright violation, breach of contract (Hamilton had signed copyright forms at the archives in question), and unfair competition....

In 1986, the Court of Appeals ruled in Salinger’s favor and thus began a new era in U.S. copyright law. Not only were unpublished works on their way to becoming covered under the fair use constraints and privileges, but a bright line was also drawn around unpublished letters. In subsequent copyright case law, a distinction was made between the vehicle of a letter (the paper it’s written on or the virtual notepad of an email) and the expression of the words themselves.
So if Trump wants to publish letters that were sent to him, he needs the permission of the writers (or their estates).

Do you think he knows that? Do you think the fifth-rate legal talent he tends to hire these days knows that?

This wouldn't be a problem if Trump were working with a major publisher, even an established right-wing publisher like Regnery. Established book publishers employ lawyers who know all this. They wouldn't allow him to go forward until he'd obtained written permission to publish every letter he wanted to include.

But as CNN notes, Trump's book won't be put out by an established publisher:
Trump’s second book since leaving office is due to be published by Winning Team Publishing, an imprint launched by his eldest son Don Jr. and former campaign adviser Sergio Gor....

The same publishing house was behind “Our Journey Together,” the $75 hardcover collection of photographs that Trump released last December.
Maybe Junior and Gor understand copyright law as it applies to letters, or maybe someone who works for them does. But it's likely that no one in Trump World understands this, and Winning Team might have to scrap hundreds of thousands of books when some famous letter writer discovers letters published without permission and decides to sue.

It's conceivable that Team Trump will carefully follow the law, and the book will be published without incident.... Oh, who am I kidding? That won't happen, will it?


UPDATE: Hey, whatever happened to this book?

Seven months later, there's no mention of the book on Winning Team's site. There's no Amazon page for the book. It's vaporware. And the book of letters might suffer the same fate.

No comments: