On Wednesday, an Italian man was detained at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for allegedly participating in a multi-year plan to illegally obtain hundreds of prepublication manuscripts. As per a Department of Justice press release, Fillippo Bernardini, 29, reportedly impersonated agents, editors, and others in the publishing business to steal manuscripts of unpublished works. Bernardini formerly worked at London-based publisher Simon & Schuster.
“Filippo Bernardini allegedly impersonated publishing industry individuals in order to have authors, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, send him prepublication manuscripts for his own benefit,” stated U.S. Attorney Damian Williams. Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI’s New York Office, said that “Mr. Bernardini used his insider knowledge of the industry to get authors to send him their unpublished books and texts by posing as agents, publishing houses, and literary scouts.”
Bernardini used fraudulent email accounts linked to over 160 domains to mimic literary talent agencies, publishing firms, and literary scouting organizations during the plan, which began in August 2016. As per the unsealed indictment, the fake domains [..] were confusingly similar to the genuine companies they were impersonating and would only have minor typographical errors that would be difficult for the ordinary user to detect during a quick reading.
He was able to impersonate legitimate persons in the publishing industry and request copies of future manuscripts from hundreds of writers and people in the publishing sector using forged email addresses. He even sent phishing emails to workers of a literary scouting firm in New York City, effectively stealing their credentials and gaining access to its database of synopses and other information about upcoming publications.
If convicted of wire fraud, the offender faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, plus an additional two years for aggravated identity theft. The Department of Justice noted that these prepublication manuscripts are essential, and their unlawful distribution may severely damage publishing economics. As a result, publishing firms endeavor to detect and prevent the dissemination of pirated, prepublication manuscripts.
Such piracy may also hurt an author’s image by undermining secondary markets for published work, such as cinema and television, and distributing an early draft of written content in a work-in-progress stage. According to The Guardian’s report, Margaret Atwood, Sally Rooney, and Ethan Hawke were among the authors targeted in Bernardini’s multi-year operation to steal unpublished manuscripts.