The Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was embroiled in a war of words with the publishers of his memoir yesterday over whether they had any right to put the book on sale without his consent.
As Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography went on sale in bookshops, the former hacker put out a statement accusing Canongate of "profiteering" by publishing a draft of the memoir.
The publisher, which says Mr Assange was in breach of contract and had failed to return his six-figure advance, responded by calling that account a "distorted version of events".
Another extract from the book, which has made headlines around the world, is published exclusively in today's Independent. It describes Mr Assange's unusual childhood, brought up by a mother who was a left-wing activist constantly on the move, and a stepfather, Brett Assange, who split from his mother when he was nine. He reckons he was sent to 30 schools as his mother moved around Australia.
But even as critics and supporters of Mr Assange digested the memoir – including his first account of the events leading up to the rape charges that he is facing in Sweden – the row over the bizarre circumstances of its publication was rumbling on.
Canongate's publishing director Nick Davies – who has the same name as the senior Guardian journalist who worked with WikiLeaks until they fell out – described Mr Assange's hostility to ghostwriter Andrew O'Hagan's draft as "an extraordinary reaction to a manuscript he should have been grateful for and immensely proud of".
He added: "What followed was a series of broken promises. We set Julian free to work on the manuscript himself. He had six weeks to edit and rewrite. On the day he was supposed to return it to us, we heard that he'd lost all of his work. Then he told us he wanted to cancel his contract. But he couldn't repay his advance."
In a statement on the WikiLeaks site yesterday, Mr Assange described the book as "a narrative and literary interpretation of a conversation between the writer and me".
He added: "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." Mr Assange went on to note that he would have to buy a copy of the book to find out what it said.
In his extraordinary career as a computer hacker and internet publisher, Mr Assange has fallen out with numerous people who have worked with him. His book describes in vitriolic terms the souring of his relationship with senior journalists at The Guardian, his contempt for The New York Times, and how sexual encounters with two women in Sweden resulted, to his shock and surprise, in his being accused of rape and wanted for questioning. He is currently fighting extradition to Sweden. Mr Assange also sacked the legal team he first hired to fight extradition.
The advance that Canongate and the New York imprint Alfred A Knopf paid was put into escrow, which means his former lawyer Mark Stephens' firm Finers Stephens Innocent will have first claim on it to pay legal fees.
Canongate's decision to publish – Knopf decided not to – shows it had given up hope that it would either get the advance back, or get Mr Assange to approve a revised version. Mr Assange claimed yesterday that once the fees charged by his former lawyers have been audited, the money from the advance could go back to the publishers.
Mr Assange did at least find a surprising ally in his longtime nemesis Nick Davies of The Guardian, who agreed with his assessment that Canongate was "profiteering" by publishing the book.Reuse content