I have learned today through an article in The Independent that my publisher, Canongate, has secretly distributed an unauthorised 70,000 word first draft of what was going to be my autobiography. According to The Independent, Canongate “enacted a huge security operation to secretly ship books out to thousands of stores nationwide without tipping anyone off as to the content of the book”. It will be in the bookshops tomorrow.
I am not “the writer” of this book. I own the copyright of the manuscript, which was written by Andrew O’Hagan. By publishing this draft against my wishes Canongate has acted in breach of contract, in breach of confidence, in breach of my creative rights and in breach of personal assurances. The US publisher, Knopf, withdrew from the deal when it learned of Canongate’s intentions to publish without my consent. This book was meant to be about my life’s struggle for justice through access to knowledge. It has turned into something else. The events surrounding its unauthorised publication by Canongate are not about freedom of information — they are about old-fashioned opportunism and duplicity–screwing people over to make a buck.
On 20 December 2010, three days after being released from prison and while under house arrest, I signed a contract with Canongate and US publisher Knopf. In it I agreed to authorise a 100,000-150,000 word book – part memoir, part manifesto – in order to fund legal defences and to contribute towards WikiLeaks’ operating costs. On the 7th of December 2010 Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and Western Union folded to US pressure by arbitrarily and unlawfully cutting WikiLeaks off of its financial lifeline. The blockade continues. The European Commission is due to issue its first findings in October. My legal defence fund was similarly targeted and closed.
The draft is published under the title “Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography” – a contradiction in terms. It is a narrative and literary interpretation of a conversation between the writer and me. Although I admire Mr. O’Hagan’s writing, this draft was a work in progress. It is entirely uncorrected or fact-checked by me. The entire book was to be heavily modified, extended and revised, in particular, to take into account the privacy of the individuals mentioned in the book. I have a close friendship with Andrew O’Hagan and he stands by me.
The publisher has not been given a copy of the manuscript by Andrew O’Hagan or me. Rather, as a courtesy they were shown the “manuscript in progress” by Andrew O’Hagan’s researcher, as an act of generosity, and for viewing purposes only – expressly agreed to by Canongate. Canongate physically took the manuscript, kept it, and did not return it to Mr. O’Hagan or me.
Contrary to what The Independent reports, I did not pull the plug on the deal, nor was I unwilling to compromise. Rather, I proposed on 7 June 2011 to cancel the contract as it stood in order to write up a fresh contract with a new deadline. I informed the publishers of this on 7 June 2011, having explained that with the upcoming extradition appeal in the High Court and an ongoing espionage Grand Jury against me in Virginia, I was not in a position to dedicate my full attention to a book that would narrate my personal story and my life’s work. On 9 June 2011 I received an email from my agency, PFD, informing me that the US and UK publishers (Knopf and Canongate) were interested in renegotiating the form of the book, and insisting on canceling the contract as it stood: “The primary publishers [Canongate and Knopf] very much like this idea [of changing the book agreed to in the contract into documentary form] and understand that we cannot address this until after 12 July [the first day of the extradition appeal]… Both Jamie [Byng] and Sonny [Mehta, from US publisher Knopf] (who is here at the moment) insisted on cancelling the existing contract.” It is this contract, that had been agreed to be cancelled by all parties, that Canongate is basing its actions on.
The initial advance my agent refers to was the first of what should have been three instalments. The advance was paid direct into my former solicitors’ (FSI) bank account wholly without my consent. The money sits unspent in FSI’s “Julian Assange” client account. FSI has refused to release the money to Canongate as a result of a legal fees dispute (FSI initially agreed to handle my extradition case “pro-bono”, or without fee). The FSI fees have been audited by an independent costs draftsman. The audit shows extreme over-charging. One of the firm’s solicitor’s has resigned, in part to protest the issue. The outcome of this dispute is pending, but a favourable finding would release the entire advance, which has not been touched, back to Canongate and Knopf.
In a meeting on 20 May 2011 with Canongate publisher Jamie Byng, I verbally agreed to deliver the agreed 100,000-150,000 word manuscript by the end of the year. In a recorded phone conversation on (or the day before or after) 15 June 2011, Jamie Byng gave me assurances that Canongate would never, contrary to rumours given to me, publish the book without my consent. We would agree to restructure the book and the deadline, and draw up a new contract. In correspondence (24 August 2011) my agent wrote: “We are going to arrange for you to have a one-to-one meeting with Jamie [Byng]… I think we could aim for a Spring 2012 publication and work a timetable that gets us there, but that’s between Jamie and you…. we can discuss a new payment schedule but they will need considerable assurances that the book will be delivered to them to publish.” However, Jamie Byng ignored my agent’s attempts to arrange a meeting with me. My agent then informed me that Jamie Byng would refuse to take any of my calls. Despite this I and two members of my team tried repeatedly to contact him through calls, messages on his voicemail, and text messages leading up to and on 5 September 2011. He did not reply to any of our attempts to contact him. During all this time we were unaware of Canongate’s secret plan to publish the manuscript without consent.
Two days later, Canongate informed my agent that they wanted to print the unauthorised book Monday, 19 September 2011. I was advised by my lawyers that I had grounds for obtaining a quia timet injunction to prevent the printing on 19 September of the manuscript. I was informed that I could object to Canongate’s actions on the basis that the proposal amounts to an infringement of copyright, a breach of the agreement, plus a breach of my right not to have my work subjected to derogatory treatment.
On 16 September 2011, I wrote a letter to my publisher informing them of my intention to obtain a temporary injunction unless they agreed to make immediately available to Q.C. Geoffrey Robertson a copy of the proposed book. In keeping with my rights under the contract, I requested five days for legal review of the manuscript by my own barrister, so that he could suggest any deletions reasonably required to protect our people from any adverse legal consequences that may arise from this publication. Jamie Byng attempted to extort legal immunity for his actions by refusing to giving me even a single chapter of the book unless I signed away my right to take legal action against Canongate. In his reply to my agent (16 September 2011), he wrote: “And we do need written assurances from Julian that he will not be taking legal action against the book before we can give our lawyers the green light to send over this chapter”.
Canongate has stated that I have not acted on obtaining an injunction in the twelve-day window between the date of the letter informing me of the publication and the date that the book would go to press. This alleged twelve day window was in fact a five-day window, as I was only given the letter on Friday 9 September at 16:00. From the moment I was informed of Canongate’s actions, I spoke to numerous solicitors. These solicitors were unwilling to take my case because I as the claimant must give a cross undertaking for damages when applying for an injunction. This means that I would be required to demonstrate that I was in the financial position to undertake to pay damages to Canongate in the event that the injunction should not have been granted. I am not in a position to provide such an undertaking. Canongate is aware of this. In a letter dated 14 September 2011, Canongate’s lawyers write: “Please also note that if the Book is not published our client will incur very significant additional damage. As you will be aware the court will take this into account when considering any application for an injunction to satisfy itself that the cross-undertaking as to damages that Mr. Assange will need to provide is good in this respect. Furthermore, we understand that Mr. Assange is an Australian citizen and not resident in this country. If that is right he will need to provide security for costs.”
Canongate is profiteering from an unfinished and erroneous draft, preventing me from exercising my rights as the copyright holder, denying me and many others of market opportunity for the book I wished to publish, and depriving me of the earnings I would eventually have made with the second and third instalments of the advance. It is acting on a contract that both parties agreed to terminate, but is, in any event, in breach even of that contract. My agent was negotiating a new timetable and we had agreed to draw up a fresh contract for the book I wanted to publish in my name. The last conversation with Jamie Byng on 16 June was friendly, positive and forward-looking. Since then, as Canongate secretly prepared the manuscript for publication, it has found excuses not to interact with me, presumably in order to avoid discovery. Canongate has refused contrary to contract to provide me with a copy of the edit that has gone to print for my lawyers to assess. Canongate has carried out this action with the knowledge that my financial situation prevents me from undertaking legal action against them. Canongate’s actions undermine the economic benefit I and WikiLeaks could have derived from the book deal at a time when my legal costs are mounting due to politically motivated legal attacks and a financial blockade jeopardises WikiLeaks’ continued operations.
My ability to comment on the content of the book is limited. I am aware that there have been edits to the draft of 31 March 2011, but I do not know what they are. Andrew O’Hagan has not been shown the final edit. Tomorrow, I will have to buy ‘my autobiography’ in order to learn the extent of the errors and inaccuracies of the content of the book, but the damage is done.