Julian Assange to keep WikiLeaks afloat with money from book deal

Julian Assange has signed a book deal worth more than $1 million as a way to pay WikiLeaks' legal bills. The business world has had a mixed reaction to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Matt Dunham/AP
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, speaks to members of the media as he leaves a police station in Beccles, England, Dec. 24.

As 2010 ends, corporations are showing widely varying reactions to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange – from cutting off business arrangements to signing lucrative deals.

On Monday, New York publishing firm Alfred A. Knopf told the Associated Press the company had signed a deal with Mr. Assange for his autobiography “prior to the holidays.” Assange, who masterminded the Nov. 28 release of a flood of secret US diplomatic cables, told The Sunday Times of London the deal would bring in more than $1 million. He claimed $800,000 would come from Knopf and roughly $500,000 would be paid by British publisher Canongate.

“I didn’t want to write this book, but I have to,” Assange told the Sunday Times. He claimed to have already spent the equivalent of $310,000 on legal costs. “I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat,” he told the paper.

Assange is currently under house arrest in Britain, fighting extradition to Sweden for alleged crimes including rape and sexual molestation. Hearings on the issue are slated to begin Jan. 11. He has denied any wrongdoing. US Attorney General Eric Holder has said he is looking at various options for prosecuting the release of US secrets by WikiLeaks. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the nature of Assange's denial.] 

At least one other WikiLeaks book has been given the green light. On Dec. 22, Crown Publishers said that in February it would release a book by former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg who also goes by the name Daniel Schmitt. The book is called “WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website.”

A Crown statement, cited by the Associated Press, says the book will “reveal the evolution, finances, and inner tensions” of the organization. Mr. Schmitt broke with Assange's organization three months ago and plans to launch his own website, called Openleaks.org.

While controversy may be seen as offering a competitive advantage in the publishing field, companies in other lines of business have distanced themselves from the turmoil surrounding WikiLeaks’ release of secret documents. The US government says the website’s actions have damaged national security and harmed diplomatic efforts.

Most recently, Apple Inc. removed an application from its online store that let iPhone and iPad users access content from WikiLeaks’ website. The app was only available for a few days in Apple’s app store before it was removed, Reuters reported.

“We removed the WikiLeaks App from the App Store because it violated our developer guidelines,” Apple said in a statement Dec. 22. “Apps must comply with the all local laws and may not put an individual or targeted group in harm’s way,” the company said.

At the time of Apple’s announcement, Google’s app store for Android phones still carried several apps providing access to WikiLeaks documents, Reuters reported.

More typical has been the response of Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal. All of the organizations have stopped providing payment services to the WikiLeaks. Visa’s statement on its decision was typical. The credit card company told the Associated Press it would “suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks website pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules.”

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