The decision by Canongate to publish this autumn the memoir by Julian Assange without the author’s permission raises interesting questions. The publisher appears to be attempting to recoup some of their investment – the reported advance paid on signature was £250,000. In the US Knopf have cancelled their contract with the author and will mostly likely lose the advance they paid – $250,000.
It is not clear why Assange did not want to carry on work on the book. It is suggested that he had realized that any money made would simply be swallowed up by his legal bills. He has said that he does not have the time to work on the book and needs to concentrate on his legal battle against extradition. What has transpired, however, is that the book was being ghostwritten by Andrew O’Hagan on the basis of interviews with Assange. (Canongate will also have to pay O’Hagan for his work.)
In Inside Book Publishing we highlighted a case from 2006 when Random House sued Joan Collins. The publisher was attempting to retrieve the advance paid to her of $1.3m, alleging that the manuscripts she had delivered for two books were unpublishable. Collins won the case since the original contract only said that the manuscript should be ‘complete’ – not satisfactory.
It is certainly not usual for a publisher to go ahead with publication against the author’s wishes, and it is fairly extraordinary that they have issued what is only a draft. They must be calculating that the author will not wish to be involved in another court case, and according to the Guardian, they are relying on a clause in the contract which says that if the manuscript is not acceptable, they can decide whether to publish the work. Untested also is the issue of the author’s moral rights – for example, the right to prevent false attribution, which prevents an author from being credited with something that they did not write. Would Assange have a case?