Lawyers acting for Australian journalist Dylan Howard, an executive at American Media Inc (AMI), wrote to booksellers ahead of the global release Monday of “Catch and Kill”, putting them “on notice of the potential defamatory content within the book”.
The book is Ronan Farrow’s account of his investigation into Hollywood producer Weinstein — who has been accused of sexually assaulting dozens of women during his decades in the entertainment industry.
Farrow, writing in The New Yorker, has previously alleged that Howard helped shield Weinstein from negative publicity while working as editor-in-chief of the National Enquirer, which is owned by AMI.
Booktopia and Amazon Australia — two of the country’s largest online book sellers — have not made the book available to their customers. Both outlets declined to comment.
The letter to retailers tells them “if the book is distributed by you in Australia and our client is correct as to the defamatory imputations contained within the book, we are instructed to initiate immediate defamation proceedings against the publisher, and our client will have no alternative but to join you as a party to those proceedings as a distributor”.
Defamation laws in Australia are notoriously complex and among the strictest in the world.
However some Australian outlets are still stocking the book.
Among them was Dymocks, which said it had not received the letter and was selling Farrow’s book in its dozens of stores across the country.
Mark Rubbo, managing director of independent bookstores Readings in Melbourne, said the retailer had received the letter but would only withdraw the book from sale on advice of the publisher.
He told AFP the letter did not appear to outline “sufficient grounds to deny the public access to the book and its important premise that powerful figures are using their power and wealth to attempt to suppress news stories about their abuse of power”.
Farrow called the legal threats “frivolous” and thanked “all complaining and defending the free press”.
“I’m sorry to all the Australian readers to whom this story is important too,” he tweeted Wednesday.
“I hope you can import or buy from an independent bookseller, and avoid outlets that yield to these kinds of intimidation tactics.”
The revelations surrounding Weinstein helped launch the global #MeToo movement, which encourages women to speak out about sexual assault and harassment.
Weinstein has been charged with rape and is awaiting trial in New York.
© Agence France-Presse