The £12m question: how WikiLeaks gags its own staff

“A typical open market valuation.”

This blog has previously described the bizarre legal world of WikiLeaks where, for example, the organisation claims some form of commercial ownership over the information that has been leaked to it.

Today, the New Statesman can reveal the extent of this legal eccentricity as we publish a copy of the draconian and extraordinary legal gag that WikiLeaks imposes on its own staff.

Clause 5 of this "Confidentiality Agreement" (PDF) imposes a penalty of "£12,000,000 – twelve million pounds sterling" on anyone who breaches this legal gag.

This ludicrous – and undoubtedly unenforceable – amount is even based on "a typical open-market valuation" for the leaked information that WikiLeaks possesses.

This phraseology is consistent with WikliLeaks's perception of itself as a commercial organisation in the business of owning and selling leaked information. Indeed, there is no other sensible way of interpreting this penalty clause.

Other parts of the legal gag are just as extraordinary. The second recital paragraph, "B", provides that – like a superinjunction – the fact of the legal gag itself is subject to the gag.

So is "all newsworthy information relating to the workings of WikiLeaks". On the face of it, even revealing one is under this agreement could result in a £12m penalty, as would sharing information on how the directors conduct the organisation.

The fifth recital paragraph, "E", is just as astonishing. It purports to extend what WikiLeaks can sue for beyond any direct loss that it might suffer if the gag is breached. WikiLeaks says it can sue for both "loss of opportunity to sell the information to other news broadcasters and publishers" and "loss of value of the information".

All this legalese can only mean that WikiLeaks takes the commercial aspect of selling "its" information seriously: there would be no other reason for this document to have such precise, onerous and unusual provisions.

On the basis of this legal gag alone, it would be fair to take the view that WikiLeaks is nothing other a highly commercially charged enterprise, seeking to protect and maximise its earnings from selling information that has been leaked to it. If so, WikiLeaks is nothing other than a business.

One suspects that the various brave and well-intentioned people who have provided the leaked information would be quite unaware of – and perhaps horrified by – the express commercial intentions of WikiLeaks, as evidenced by this document.

However, for some time it has been apparent that WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, have had a "pick'n'mix" attitude to legal obligations. They seem to feel free from any restrictions in respect of confidentiality and official secrecy; but on the other hand they make routine legal threats, especially against the Guardian, so as to uphold their perceived rights to their supposed commercial "property" – leaked, sensitive information. Abidance by the law is, it would seem, something for other people.

And, as the legal gag shows, WikiLeaks sought to use the full force of the law to deter or punish anyone who leaks against it – to the tune of £12m a time.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and is a practising media lawyer. He was shortlisted for the George Orwell Prize for blogging in 2010.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Fanging out: why do vampire bats groom each other so often?

New research shows social grooming and food sharing are more common adaptive traits in vampire bats than other species.

A new study has shown social grooming behaviour is more prevalent in vampire bat species than their non-parasitic variants. The researchers used the species Desmodus rotundus and found that the bats spent 1.5-6.3 per cent of their time engaged in social grooming, compared with just 0.5 per cent in other species.

It's not exactly a secret that a range of animals engage in social interactions. This includes hyenas who simply greet each other to increase cooperation. However, recent studies have focussed on the use of social grooming being used by animals to maintain stable relationships.  

For example, age and body weight have been linked to the amount of social grooming given by dairy cows, and licking and head rubbing are used by lions to create bonds between individuals. Vampire bats also protect each other against bats with no social links to a group. Each roost site usually contains 8-12 female adults and their offspring, defended on the outside by an adult male.

Vampire bats not only show social grooming through the cleaning of each others' bodies, but also by sharing food through the ever-appetising regurgitation process. However, both of these behaviours are directly linked to one another.

When a pair of vampire bats are grooming each other and cleaning each other's bodies, they assess the bulging size of the abdomen. This allows them to check if their partner has eaten, and whether they need to regurgitate and share food.

Sharing food is a vital part of feeding and cooperation in vampire bats, as almost 20 per cent of bats don't find any food each night. This starts a ticking clock, as most bats can starve to death in under 72 hours.

The importance of social bonding is reflected in the anatomy of the bat. In proportion to their relatively small body size, vampire bats have a very large brain and neocortex. Previous studies have shown the size of the neocortex is linked to more complex social behaviour and bonding.

The authors of the paper conclude that social grooming acts as a way for bats to display their hunger to partners, or alternatively, that they are willing to share food, and for the need to sustain close bonds.