Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography. Rhiannon Russell asks: Who’s telling the truth and will we ever find out?

Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography. Rhiannon Russell asks: Who’s telling the truth and will we ever find out?

When Scotland-based publishing company Canongate Books released Julian Assange’s unauthorized biography, controversy hit the fan. While the WikiLeaks founder initially signed the book deal with the publisher last December, he says he gave the company notice this summer that he wanted out.

Assange is now accusing Canongate of breach of contract and breach of confidence for publishing the book without his permission. In a statement posted on his website, the WikiLeaks founder wrote, “Canongate is profiteering from an unfinished and erroneous draft … 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.”

According to Assange, Canongate published the first and only draft from the book’s ghostwriter  — without his knowledge that it would be published without any revisions. Assange believes Canongate planned to publish this book as “unauthorized” all along.

Nick Davies, publishing director of Canongate, told a completely different story, in a first-person account published in the Guardian.

Assange signed a contract with Canongate in December 2010 to write a memoir, and he chose Andrew O’Hagan as his ghostwriter. For three months, O’Hagan and Assange met and talked. These talks resulted in over 50 hours of interviews, with which O’Hagan wrote a first draft. In March, Canongate presented the draft to Assange for approval.

“Julian just started putting the brakes on the whole project,” Davies told CBC Radio’s Jian Ghomeshi. “At the time, he was quite vague about what he didn’t like about that first draft, but one of the things he said was he thought it was too personal.”

Davies said he thinks Assange became uncomfortable with it when he saw his life written on paper.

“To also say it was too personal was a slightly strange objection for Julian to raise because he had signed up to write an autobiography for us … and he has delivered all the material,” Davies said. “No one was putting a gun to his head to say these things.”

According to Davies, Assange never returned any edits to Canongate. In June, Canongate told Assange he had six weeks to change the draft and revise it as he saw fit.

At that point, Davies said Assange told them he wanted out of the contract. When Canongate requested back the advances it had already paid him, Assange said he was unable to do so, since he’d used the funds to pay legal fees.

At the beginning of September, Canongate gave Assange a seven-day window to come forward with changes or a new direction for the book. He didn’t. Two weeks before the book was to be published, Davies said they contacted Assange to let him know they’d be publishing the original, unrevised manuscript, unless he presented revisions. Again, they received nothing from him in writing.

“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.  We published the story he told,” reads a statement on Canongate’s website.

In his statement on WikiLeaks, Assange includes transcripts of interviews and phone conversations he had with Jamie Byng of Canongate in which he mentions he’s heard rumours of “people looking to publish unauthorised copies of my manuscript.”

Byng assures him, “No. That is absolutely not what we are going to do or want to do.” This transcript is dated June 16, 2011.

Davies said Assange’s statement “is so littered with misinterpretations and so misrepresents the publishing story of this book over the last nine months, it’s quite difficult to know where to begin … We’ve been transparent and honest with Julian about our intention to publish this book.”

So who’s telling the truth? Canongate and Assange are the only ones who know.

Either way, critics around the world have been quick to see the irony of WikiLeaks founder being “WikiLeaked” in a way.

As Jian Ghomeshi put it: “The man behind so many leaks is the subject of a kind of leak himself.”

Assange’s decision to sign a book deal stemmed from his need to settle legal bills and keep WikiLeaks afloat.

Regardless of who’s right and who’s wrong, it seems the controversy isn’t enough to sell the book — only 644 copies were sold during the first three days it was on shelves in the United Kingdom.