By Erin Thiele and Barry Neil Shrum, Esq.
In the mid-1980s, Donald Trump approached Tony Schwartz to ghost write his autobiography. At this point in time, Trump was in his early 30s and did not have a great deal of life experiences about which to write a personal biography. So, according to Schwartz, he suggested instead that writing a book discussing Trump’s deal-making acumen was a better idea, and offered up the title, “The Art of the Deal.” So that’s what they agreed to do. The collaboration ended up on the New York Times best-seller list in 1987 and remained there for almost a year.
That Trump and Schwartz collaborated on the book is no secret, since Schwartz received prominent credit on the front cover. Legally, that takes this project out of the realm of pure “ghostwriting” and places it firmly in the area of joint authorship as defined at 17 U.S.C. 201.
I often explain to my “co-write obsessed” songwriter clients in Nashville that when you enter into a collaboration of this nature with another author, it’s a lot like being in a long-term relationship in that 50% of them end in divorce! That’s why it always good to have some form of written understanding in place whether you are co-writing or ghost writing.
Fast-forward to present day America where there is a decidedly unpopular duo of presidential candidates which includes Trump’s name on the Republican ticket, amidst a constant whirlwind of controversy and media circuses. Trump has many times referenced The Art of the Deal on the campaign trail and ranks it among one of his greatest accomplishments.
Schwartz, for his part, obviously feels distraught and remorseful for putting the “T” in Trump. So, he jumped into the fray suddenly, appearing on Good Morning America with nothing but unfavorable things to say about Art of the Deal and, perhaps more to the point, about his co-writer, Donald Trump.
Schwartz claims he “wrote every word” of the manuscript, further alleging that Art of the Deal is filled with fictional accounts of the deals created in his own mind. Trump’s lawyers strongly deny these charges, insisting in their cease and desist letter to Schwartz that the deals are real, and that it was Trump, not Schwartz, that actually made the deals described in the book and that Trump is solely responsible for its success. The cease and desist requests, among other things, a return of all the royalties Schwartz has made on the book.
This reaction was no shock to Schwartz who, in reply, says:
“I . . . almost immediately