Wikileaks Attempts To Bully Wikileaks Documentary With C&D Notices

from the about-face dept

The history of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange is a tortured one, to be sure. Once the darling of the left for exposing important misdeeds by the American government, the site then became a tool for the right in the last Presidential election with the publishing of emails stolen in a hack of the DNC. From there, some have accused Wikileaks of being an arm of Moscow’s intelligence efforts, while the America government has made noise about prosecuting the site and Assange under the Espionage Act. Still others support the site for its efforts in exposing the secrets governments wish to keep hidden from the citizens to whom they are beholden.

Through it all, Assange and Wikileaks have remained firm in their mission to expose information and secrets that were previously kept from the public. Except, it seems, when that information has to do with Wikileaks itself. According to the makers of a documentary about Wikileaks entitled Risk, on the topic of Wikileaks, Wikileaks is chiefly interested not in open journalism and unvarnished truth, but rather on its own image. And apparently the site is willing to wield legal threats and lawyers in a way that is almost absurdly hypocritical.

We are the producers of Risk , a documentary film about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. We unequivocally defend WikiLeaks’ journalistic right to publish true and newsworthy information…We were disturbed, however, to learn that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks sent cease and desist letters to our distributors demanding they stop the release of Risk: “We therefore demand that you immediately cease the use and distribution of all images of the Named Participants and that you desist from this or any other infringement of the rights of the Named Participants in the future.”

From there, the filmmakers go into what lengths they went to work directly with Wikileaks and Assange on the film starting back in 2011. Assange himself provided content to be used in the film and even signed a licensing agreement to use Wikileaks footage for it. Some people involved with Wikileaks requested not to be in the film and the filmmakers complied. People from the site and their lawyers have been shown screenings of the film before every regional release, including as recently as April of this year. There is no claim made thus far that any of the content of the film is false.

So, what is the weighty harm over which Wikileaks is firing off C&Ds? Its image and the image of Assange.

Since 2016, Assange and his lawyers have repeatedly demanded that we remove scenes from the film in which Assange speaks about the two women who made sexual assault allegations against him in 2010 and Sweden’s investigation which has since been discontinued. WikiLeaks’ comments have consistently been about image management, including: demands to remove scenes from the film where Assange discusses sexual assault allegations against him; requests to remove images of alcohol bottles in the embassy because Ecuador is a Catholic country and it looks bad; requests to include mentions of WikiLeaks in the 2016 U.S. presidential debates; and, requests to add more scenes with attorney Amal Clooney because she makes WikiLeaks look good.

The opinion that Assange is an egomaniac has been floating around for some time. With actions like these, there seems to be some evidence of that. But that charge aside, what should be abundantly clear is that the ideals of the site appear to have fallen by the wayside when it comes to a simple documentary that has refused to cinematically stroke Wikileaks to the degree it wishes. That’s not a good look for a site that survives on people’s belief that it is committed to open and honest information.

In fact, this looks to be the sort of thing that the Wikileaks from years gone by would have dug into and exposed.

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Comments on “Wikileaks Attempts To Bully Wikileaks Documentary With C&D Notices”

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Cowardly Lion says:


Assange should have taken more care to assert that his comments were either on or off the record. Interviewers generally respect that. WRT bottles of alcohol, either cut down man, or at least stash them behind the bust of Pallas. That’s what I do.

The other stuff regarding the 2016 election and inclusion of Mrs. Clooney, sorry but that’s 100% the discretion of the film makers. It is their documentary…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Whoops.

“Assange should have taken more care to assert that his comments were either on or off the record.”

He got it in writing that some scenes filmed were entirely off-the-record, and could only be used if everyone in them granted permission later (which they did not). Poitras violated this written legal agreement that she signed, and the fact that he has actually not sued her yet is surprising to some of the people involved.

Anon says:

Re: Drinking Catholilc

Yes, when I think of Catholic countries – Italy, France, Spain, Ireland – their choice of rink isn’t Coca Cola… I tend to think f them as alcohol consumers, usually wine (except Ireland). Abstention is more of a fundamentalist Protestant thing – the Puritan ethic, “if it’s fun, it must be sinful”.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

WIkileaks lost it a long time ago

When Wikileaks became all about Assange and not about the leaks, they basically lost the plot.

What is remarkable for a site that is all about transparency and revealing everything no matter who gets hurt (or possibly killed), Assange has not only not been forthcoming about his own issues, but has chosen to hide out and avoid facing them in the real world.

He lost the moral right to C&D anything a long time ago.

Anonymous Coward says:

Could Wikileaks be [still] trying to protect the privacy of Anna Ardin and Sofia Wilen? Despite being named and photographed (sometimes even investigated) in thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, for some strange reason various editors insist that they must never be identified (as if no one would ever think of using Google).

The fact that both Anna and Sofia had basically both “recanted” and were speaking out against Assange’s prosecution, raises questions of whether they were either pressured or paid off by pro-Assange activists, or perhaps even both.

ECA (profile) says:

For the lack of an informed people..

“No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity.” –Thomas Jefferson: Virginia Board of Visitors Minutes, 1821. ME 19:408

“Freedom [is] the first-born daughter of science.” –Thomas Jefferson to Francois D’Ivernois, 1795. ME 9:297

“Light and liberty go together.” –Thomas Jefferson to Tench Coxe, 1795.

NOW, how many of our PAID STATE AND FED EMPLOYEES(reps and senators) Understand this…OR EVEN consider this..

Anonymous Coward says:

Disingenuous Article

This article is ridiculous. There was an agreement in place that Assange and his staff would have the editorial rights on this in order to protect themselves. The maker of the film agreed to this and then went back on her word. Keep in mind the maker, Laura Poitras, works for The Intercept, you may remember them as being the group that was recently being criticised for burning one of their sources through incompetence (and several others came forwards afterwards). They are irresponsible and underhanded, and Wikileaks and Assange damn well should be filing C&D orders. But good luck on your witch hunt and ill informed “journalism” TechDirt. Pathetic article.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Disingenuous Article

This article is ridiculous.

I disagree.

There was an agreement in place that Assange and his staff would have the editorial rights on this in order to protect themselves.

I find it difficult to believe that a filmmaker as established as Laura Poitras would ever agree to such a silly agreement. Indeed, she claims in the article linked above that there is no such agreement. In fact, I would trust her as a documentarian a lot LESS if she had signed such an agreement. You just don’t do that.

Also, if there were such an agreement, then the cease & desist would be arguing breach of contract. It is not.

So, I don’t know where you got this info, but it does not appear to be supported by reality.

And, even if there were such an agreement, it’s silly in this context. Wikileaks’ whole focus — one which we support! — is in releasing documents against the interests of those who had them originally. For it to go after a documentary filmmaker using questionable legal threats clearly goes against the entire ethos of Wikileaks.

Keep in mind the maker, Laura Poitras, works for The Intercept, you may remember them as being the group that was recently being criticised for burning one of their sources through incompetence (and several others came forwards afterwards). They are irresponsible and underhanded, and Wikileaks and Assange damn well should be filing C&D orders.

This is an interesting smear, but inaccurate. First off, Poitras herself had nothing to do with that situation. Second, the Intercept employs two of the best-known security experts at protecting confidential sources online. It is true that they fucked up bigtime with Reality Winner (though it seems clear she would have been caught through other means quickly anyway), but it’s not as if they have a long history of these kinds of fuckups. Exactly the opposite. They have a long history of being a go to source for anonymous sources who they’ve protected successfully.

And, again, the C&D still does not make any sense at all, given the other points raised above.

  • But good luck on your witch hunt and ill informed "journalism" TechDirt. Pathetic article.*

Please define "witch hunt" because this is not a witch hunt. This is a response to a bullshit hypocritical attempt to be a censorious jackass.

THIERRY DETAILE (user link) says:


You are mixing it all in this article. A documentary, based on trust and immersion, is not a reportage, or journalism. And it is based on acontract, also: the C&D is about breach in the contract, not about Assange’s image in the film, by the way quite empathic about him. It is also about the updated off voice , which is clearly searving soup to political correctness. But is sell better I guess for you to blame then understand and analyse a situation.

Joe K says:

Another Statement published in Newsweek, consipicuously absent from the discussion here

I am genuinely surprised that nobody here, in this discussion, has pointed to this quite relevant statement, published in Newsweek just last month, from Wikileaks’ attorneys.

Here is a particularly relevant excerpt, reference to which might have shed some badly needed light on the muddy exchange between Anonymous and Masnick above:

Our first issue with Risk is that the film was edited in New York,
where the raw footage can more easily be seized by the
U.S. government. By moving the editing location from Berlin to the
U.S., Poitras has endangered our clients and reneged on written
agreements with WikiLeaks that explicitly forbid her from editing
the footage in the United States

Is every written agreement a contract? It would surprise me if that were the case, but I honestly have no idea.

DBA Philip Cross says:

Techdirt frequently fails to engage in the part of the dialogue where causes, and issues blur due to the gray area between public relations and journalism. Cases in point: Israeli hasbara, Squad 8200, infiltration of Silicon Valley by IDF, troll farms,crisis PR narratives and many more issues. As such, this appears to be a hit piece on Julian Assange.

In that light–since lifting the veil on Assange is so popular these days– one cannot leave out the fact that Pierre Omidyar is also a mouthpiece and financial donor to the racist, supremacist and race-baiting Anti Defamation League, its British-Israeli backers, and accessory to its constant attack on leading non-Jewish journalists, or others who critique the Israelification of media or Israelification in general.

None of this micro-analyses of Assange’s personality, or his motives, or his character did or could have happened to Daniel Ellsberg.No one was out hunting down Ellsberg’s USAID connected mating or dating partners.o one was imposing post-Nazi weaponized psychology on the guy.

As a media organization, Wikipedia is well within its rights to challenge its portrayal in media–the public relations function is vastly different than the news reporting function, and image management is a necessary function of media, when the PR purpose is involved.

This piece is the equivalent of me writing a story about Timothy Geigner and using a My Funny Profile-Timothy Geigner entry as evidence of the authors potential character.

The PR function of any media outlet is vastly different than its news collecting function, and as we know for all others–only a hit piece doesn’t discuss that. Classic ADL smear all the way, whether inadvertent or deliberate is irrelevant.

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