British publisher Transworld has canceled its plans to publish "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief" by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright. The book will be published in the U.S. by Knopf on Jan. 17.
The reason Transworld dropped the book has attracted attention, according to the Telegraph. "The decision not to publish in this country has prompted questions, particularly as Transworld had previously agreed to it," the paper says. "It seems likely that the threat of libel action in the UK may have contributed to the decision."
Libel laws work differently in the United States and Britain. The Telegraph itself was forced to pay more than $100,000 in damages for libel and malicious falsehood over a book review.
Transworld's publicity director Patsy Irwin stated, "Our legal advice was that some of the content was not robust enough for the UK market and an appropriately edited version would not fit with our schedule. The decision not to publish was taken internally."
Wright's book arose from a profile of film director Paul Haggis that appeared in the New Yorker; Haggis had been a Scientologist but left the church. The piece won a 2012 National Magazine Award.
American publisher Knopf describes the book this way: "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief" is based on more than 200 interviews with current and former Scientologists, as well as other sources. The book offers an exhaustive account of the church, from its founding by L. Ron Hubbard to its present-day leadership under David Miscavige."
In the book, Wright looks at the church's financial resources and some of the key celebrities associated with the church, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
British free speech advocates have argued against the British libel laws. Mike Harris, head of avocacy at the organization Index on Censorship told the Telegraph, "Our libel laws remain some of the most archaic in the Western world with cases in the High Court in London costing 100 times the European average. With high costs and an uncertain public interest defense, the publisher may simply have decided to back away rather than risk losing a libel case."