Our journalism usually sits behind a paywall, but we believe this is the time to make more of our content freely available to as many readers as possible. For more free coverage, sign up to COVID-19 Watch.
Crikey news quiz 2018
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

It’s not exactly the “Team Australia” moment Scott Morrison has been calling for: his adviser, Nick Louw, has admitted to distributing a pirated copy of Malcolm Turnbull’s unpublished book, A Bigger Picture, over the weekend.

Leaks against a former enemy is old-school politics at its finest, but it’s not really helpful in the middle of a crisis. With legal action threatened, and the Australian Federal Police called upon to investigate further, the hunt for more leakers will no doubt continue.

So how did someone in Scott Morrison’s office get a hold of the book, and who did he send it to? 

Turnbull’s book was due to be published today, with exclusive write-ups being promised to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age over the weekend. But The Australian national affairs editor, Simon Benson, got his hands on a copy last week, scooping the Nine papers. Now Barnaby Joyce says he won’t bother buying a copy because there are so many floating around.

Digital book “hacked” 

Like a lot of publishers, Hardie Grant turns many of its books into ebooks. It believes a copy of the ebook was “hacked” either from its own systems or its ebook supplier, and then made available online.

“From that, the Liberal party team decided it was fun to distribute to as many people as they could,” Sandy Grant, CEO of Hardie Grant, told Inq

Grant said he was looking into whether it was available on a website like Library Genesis, which boasts pirated versions of academic texts for free, often in breach of copyright. 

“Someones hacked in and got the ebook either from our system or their system and made it available on one of these illegal websites,” he said.

“Go for it”

It didn’t take long for the illegal copies to get back to Turnbull. On Saturday, Hardie Grant became aware that Nick Louw, an adviser to Scott Morrison, had distributed a copy of the book.

The publisher claims Louw sent the book to people via a WhatsApp chat along with the message: “I’ve sent this to a million people, go for it, ha ha”. But the publisher says it believes there were multiple people inside the Liberal party distributing pirated digital copies.

“They were gleefully sending it around and encouraging people to send it to others,” Grant said.

Some ministers and journalists received multiple copies of the book. “We know [Liberal MP] Tim Wilson got five copies,” Grant said. 

Received and deleted

On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne admitted she had received a pirated copy of the book from someone outside of the Prime Minister’s Office, but would not say from whom. “I’ve received and deleted,” she told the ABC’s Insiders.

Nic Pullen, lawyer for Hardie Grant and Turnbull, would not say who else it believed was responsible for distributing the book.

“We’re still looking into it in relation to who has been sending it,” Pullen told Inq. “But what was contained in it was a full file — the whole book.”

Cease and desist 

Pullen, on behalf of Turnbull and Hardie Grant, wrote to Louw on Sunday instructing him that he was responsible for the “unauthorised distribution” of the book in digital form. Turnbull has told The Guardian Louw acknowledged he circulated a digital version of the book to 59 people.

Grant says the publisher wants police to investigate who else was responsible. He criticised the government for not taking a stand against copyright theft.

“When senior federal ministers say, ‘Oh I can’t tell you where I got it from’, why not? Don’t you abhor breach of copyright?” he said.

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

Demand for what we do is running high. Thank you. You can help us even more by encouraging others to subscribe — or by subscribing yourself if you haven’t already done so.

If you like what we do, please subscribe.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

Support us today