The Julian Assange book battle continues. After publisher Canongate went ahead and published the memoir Assange backed out of earlier this year, Assange released incriminating phone calls, proving Canongate went ahead and published the manuscript without permission. Canongate responded to Assange's allegations, defending the decision to publish the title. "The fact that Julian, for whatever reason, now wishes to retract and deny those stories that he supplied to his co-writer is sad and regrettable," reads the statement posted on the publisher's site. "We published the story he told. And we gave him ample opportunity (over 5 months) to retell it. He chose not to."
At its root this is a simple tale: after delivering a manuscript Assange decided he didn't want it published and Cannongate wanted its money back. When they didn't get it, they decided to go ahead and print the book over Assange's objections. No one will come out of this happy (the book is not selling well), but the back-and-forth is a fascinating look at what it's like to work with WikiLeaks's odd leader.
Both Canongate and Assange agree that Assange signed a contract, but that's about where the consensus stops. Canongate alleges that not only did Assange agree, but he also received an advance that he never gave back. "Canongate paid Julian’s agent – not WikiLeaks - a substantial signature advance in December for the book, money that he instructed his agent to hand over to his lawyers," reads the latest Cannongate statement. "Julian has said on Twitter that ‘JA has not, and will likely never receive a cent from this stolen text’. He has – it’s a six figure sum. And we will honour any further royalty payments that become due." Assange agrees that he received the money, but in a statement on his site he claims the advance was "paid without his consent" and "sits unspent in an FSI client account." Though, which refutes an earlier report that he had spent it all. Either way, Canongate never got the sum back.
Canongate admits that at a time Assange wanted to backout. "On 7th June 2011, he told us he wished to cancel his contract." Yet, the company only admitted that after Assange released transcripts from conversations around June 8th and 16th that incriminate Canongate, as we reported yesterday. From Assange's leaked conversations, it turns out Canongate understood and accepted Assange's hesitance, but that's not the end of the story. After these exchanges, Canongate thought Assange wanted to sign a new contract. "We last talked to Julian on 16th June. During that conversation, we restated that we wished to work with Julian on the book and would be flexible about its format and publication date." And in the transcript Canongate representative Jamie Byng indeeed mentions a new project. "With my Canongate hat on I thought we were going to cancel the deal, get the money and work out a new contract." But Assange never returned the money, which he admits.
Canongate says it knew it wouldn't get the money back. "In the meantime I am going to have to accept we’re not going to see any money back," said Byng. But, that was under the circumstances of another book deal, which never happened. After these conversations, Canongate claims it reached out to Assange multiple times, without a response.
Over two months later, on 24th August, Julian’s agent asked for another meeting. Our response was to ask for something in writing. We were absolutely explicit about the need to see a proposal in writing from Julian if we were going to believe that he was really ready to reengage with the book. We had already waited almost five months for any written response to the first draft delivered at the end of March.
We received nothing.
We wrote to Julian again on 7th September, via his agent, informing him that we intended to publish his autobiography, based on the first draft delivered to us on 31 March 2011. In that letter, we told Julian we planned to send the book to press on 19 September. His response, twelve days after we sent the letter, was to say that he intended to injunct. He didn’t.
Without the money, a new project, or an injunction Canongate published.
Did Canongate publish without Assange's permission: Yes. Did Assange keep an advance for a book he pulled out of because he didn't like the way it portrayed him: Also, yes. While Canongate went ahead, Assange still looks like he's whining while sitting on a pile of money.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.