Crikey has obtained a copy of a letter from Slater and Gordon to Fairfax Media on behalf of convicted serial killer Martin Bryant’s mother Carleen Bryant over the publication of Born or Bred? Martin Bryant: The making of a mass murderer.

The letter, dated the 21st of May, argues that Mrs Bryant’s copyright was breached as was the duty to keep the information that she initially shared with authors Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro confidential. The letter outlines the misuse of confidential information and breach of copyright:

Mrs Bryant is the owner of copyright in a manuscript about her life. The book contains at least 29 separate extracts from the manuscript which have been used without our client’s permission. In doing so, you have infringed our client’s copyright. The authors have also liberally paraphrased other material from the manuscript.

The book also reproduces email and correspondence provided to the authors by Mrs Bryant. These documents have been reproduced without our client’s permission.

Carleen Bryant told The Hobart Mercury earlier this month that she has been writing her memoir for many years, to tell her side of the story about the life of her son, who is serving 35 consecutive life sentences for gunning down 35 people at Port Arthur in 1996. She said she wasn’t confident about her writing ability, and met Wainwright and Totaro in June, 2007, to discuss the possibility of them ghost-writing or co-authoring a book.

“I just needed someone else working with me to craft the words. I needed, as a mother, to be able to tell my story about Martin but no amount of money would have interested me in the way they wanted to write my book,” Mrs Bryant told The Mercury.

In last week’s letter of demand, Steven Lewis of Slater & Gordon states:

In June 2007, Mrs Bryant met with Mr Wainwright and his wife, the journalist Paola Totaro, in Hobart. Mrs Bryant’s discussions with Mr Wainwright and Ms Totaro were for the purposes of ascertaining whether they would be suitable writers for Mrs Bryant’s story. Throughout those conversations Mrs Bryant made it clear to them that the information Mrs Bryant was providing was highly confidential and in any event given the nature of the subject matter, it was clearly confidential.

Mrs Bryant then agreed that Mr Wainwright and Ms Totaro should prepare a draft outline for her consideration. She provided a copy of her manuscript and a number of other documents. According to the letter, Mrs Bryant provided these documents in confidence and solely for the purpose of facilitating the preparation of a draft outline.

At all times our client made it known to the authors that her only interest was in having a book written about her life and her memoirs. This was acknowledged by the authors in their discussions with Mrs Bryant. Mrs Bryant made it clear to the authors in no uncertain terms that she would have no part in a a book that dwelt on her son and his crimes.

“After initial discussions, we travelled to Hobart to meet with Carleen about the book she proposed about her life,” Wainwright confirmed to The Mercury in early May. “We then discussed other parts of her life, visited her home and other places, obviously to gather information.”

According to the Slater & Gordon letter, in early September 2007 Wainwright submitted a draft to Mrs Bryant:

In early October 2007 Mrs Bryant decided that she did not wish to continue the relationship with Mr Wainwright and Ms Totaro because the outline prepared by Mr Wainwright and Ms Totaro because the outline prepared by Mr Wainwright was inconsistent with her original intention: that the book be a simple story about her life … Mr Wainwright and Ms Totaro were informed of Mrs Bryant’s decision.

Mrs Bryant requested the return of her manuscript and other documents and the material was eventually returned to her in January 2008.

According to the letter, Ms Totaro then corresponded with Mrs Bryant in an attempt to have her change her mind.

… Ms Totaro proposed that the book have the working title Martin, my son: The Carleen Bryant Story. Despite these approaches, Mrs Bryant did not change her mind and had no further involvement with the writers.

In May 2009, Fairfax Media published the book:

According to The Mercury, the first Mrs Bryant learnt of the book was when she “saw news reports … that Wainwright and Totaro had released a book focusing on Bryant’s family history, upbringing and psychological and mental health issues that may have contributed to his actions.”

The letter of demand states:

In the circumstances our client was shocked and horrified to discover the book, first serialised, and then published, contained extracts from her manuscript and use of her confidential information. The book’s title, using the emotive words “Born or Bred?” and “The making of a Mass Murderer” is the antithesis of her intention that any story be of her life and not about her son. In these circumstances, it is impossible to accept that the authors believed they had permission or consent to use the manuscript and the confidential information in a book whose subject matter so offended our client.

Wainwright told The Mercury back in early May, “When Carleen withdrew — literally at the point of signing — we had already spent several months researching…At that point, we went back over our material and became convinced that there was a different book worth pursuing. This book is not Carleen’s story, nor does it rely on her manuscript. However, we did want her voice heard and for the reader to receive it unfiltered as she had initially required — the tracts that we chose to use to do this are clearly marked in italics.”

The book contains highly personal family anecdotes such as contained in this extract that was run in The Tasmanian Examiner in late April, as well as The Good Weekend in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald:

If Carleen and Martin had difficulties bonding — and her recollections would clearly suggest this — she really began to struggle when he grew into a toddler. He would disappear regularly from their house, his parents finding him in the strangest places, once on top of the chook pen next door or even further afield, playing quietly on a swing way across the other side of the railway line that ran north from Hobart along the Derwent’s western foreshore.

And this:

…his mum’s response was an unusual one: “I started to leave him on the house verandah, with a harness and lead to secure him, with plenty of toys all around him. Some person made a complaint about us tying him up like a dog. But of course as his mother, I knew he was happy and safe.”

For Carleen, Martin’s energy appeared unmanageable. His father, Maurice, however, saw nothing abnormal — a disagreement and pattern of response to their son that began early and was to colour the couple’s parenting style throughout his life.

Wainwright told The Mercury, “As parents ourselves, we felt deep sympathy for Carleen … We also feel proud that this book attempts to provide a context for her and [Martin’s father] Maurice Bryant’s efforts to do the very best under extenuating circumstances.”

But comments like that have not been enough to deter Mrs Bryant from seeking legal advice. The letter states:

The magnitude of the breach of our client’s copyright and breach of duty to keep her information confidential is such that the only adequate remedy is the immediate withdrawal from sale of all unsold copies of the book which should then be destroyed.

The letter states:

We put you on notice that our client demands from you damages, or (in the alternative and at her election), an account of profits arising from the breach of her copyright and damages for use of her confidential information. It is only fair to inform you at this stage that for the reasons set out above, those damages will be substantial.

We are instructed to demand that you provide in writing the following undertakings within seven days from the date of this letter:

1. That all unsold copies of the book will be immediately withdrawn from sale;

2. That you will deliver up to the offices of Slater & Gordon in Sydney all stock of the book in your possession, power or control;

3. That you will, within 14 days of the date of this letter, provide a statutory declaration from a director of Fairfax Media setting out the following information:

a) The names of all entities that have been supplied with copies of the book;
b) The quantity of the books sold; and
c) The purchase and sale price of the book.

Crikey understands that on the most recent week’s reporting (week ending the 16th of May) Born or Bred? sold 1147 copies at a value of $36,343, putting it at number 56 on the bestseller list.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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