The publisher of Michael Deaver's forthcoming White House memoir yesterday announced plans to sue The Washington Times for using "substantial and extremely distorted excerpts" from the book in two recent newspaper articles.
A lawyer for William Morrow & Co., Richard Sugarman, said the newspaper would be charged with copyright infringement for failing to secure the publisher's permission before printing extensive material from a review copy of "Behind the Scenes," for which the embattled former White House aide reportedly was paid $500,000.
Some of the material quoted in the Dec. 4 and Dec. 7 Times articles, Sugarman said, "has been deleted from the final version of the book," which Morrow will publish in February. He and two other Morrow executives refused to specify which material the newspaper printed will not appear in the finished book.
Larry Chandler, a spokesman for The Washington Times, called the suit "much ado about nothing," and characterized it as an attempt to generate publicity for the book. "This newspaper prints the news as it gets it. It does not in any way suppress something the public has a right to know."
At the newspaper's routine request, Morrow sent The Times uncorrected galley proofs of the book for review purposes. As is customary, this copy carried on its front cover a request to book review editors to "check quotations or attributions against the bound copy of the book ... for the sake of editorial accuracy as well as your legal protection and ours."
It is generally understood in the industry that review media will withhold comment on forthcoming books until their official publication. Last Friday, however, The Times published a front-page story headlined "Deaver tells how Nancy stripped conservatives from White House." In it, the first lady and her one-time confidant are depicted pressuring President Reagan to soften his views of the Soviet Union and to purge hard-liners from his entourage. Monday, The Times followed with another front-page story describing efforts by Nancy Reagan and Deaver to terminate U.S. support for the Nicaraguan contras.
Both Sugarman and Randall Turk, Deaver's lawyer in his ongoing perjury trial, said the Times articles had distorted the book manuscript. Turk said the Times reporter, George Archibald, had "combed the thing for anything negative" and said his client was "pleased the suit has been brought and disturbed by what The Washington Times did."
Sugarman said yesterday "we have not yet been able to determine an appropriate figure" for damages to be sought against the newspaper.
An authorized excerpt from the Deaver book purchased by Life magazine appears in this month's issue. One passage describing Deaver's drinking habits during his White House tenure has been repudiated already by the author and his publisher. "There was extensive work done in the author's set of loose galleys," declared Deaver's editor at Morrow, Lisa Drew.
The issue of serial rights to the book -- as the prepublication sale of excerpts to magazines and newspapers is known -- is likely to emerge if the suit comes to trial. "People pay money" for what The Washington Times published without permission, Drew said, suggesting that Morrow may have intended to market excerpts from the book other than what has appeared in Life.
First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who represented The Nation magazine in a roughly analogous case involving Gerald Ford's presidential memoirs, said that the Supreme Court's eventual ruling against the magazine indicated that "fair use" of material from a book "applies to a significantly lesser degree prepublication than postpublication."
Speaking of Morrow's suit against The Times, Abrams said, "I think this is a distressing use by a book publisher of copyright law in a fashion which suppresses speech at a time when the public is most interested in Mr. Deaver and his trial.