Manuscript pirate arrested in New York

(New York) It was a mystery that shook the literary world for years: the FBI arrested an employee of the American publishing house Simon & Schuster, suspected of having stolen hundreds of authors’ manuscripts before their publication , but whose motivations remain to be clarified.

Updated January 7

Presented Thursday in court in New York, the day after his arrest at JFK airport, Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian, was charged with electronic fraud and aggravated identity theft, crimes punishable by 22 years in prison .

He was posted on $300,000 bail, “guarantee on his property”, and was placed under “house arrest” with “curfew”, a spokesman for the federal prosecutor told AFP. Manhattan.

Employed in London at Simon & Schuster, as a “rights coordinator”, he is suspected of having received between 2016 and 2021 “hundreds of manuscripts not yet published”, sometimes from famous authors or their representatives, in writing to them with false e-mail addresses of publishing house managers or literary agents, details the indictment issued by the American justice system.

From Millennium to Atwood

The technique was well established, the suspect changing a letter in an innocuous way in his address and taking identities known to his interlocutors to better deceive them.

For years, the publishing world has been buzzing with these usurpation attempts, sometimes failed, sometimes successful, all the more mysterious since the thefts did not seem to be followed by ransom demands or wild publications of the works.

In August 2021, the New YorkMagazine had told how the Swedish editors of the world-famous thriller series Millenium had been approached in 2017 by one of their so-called colleague in Italy, to send him a secure link giving access to the manuscript, then being translated before its release.

In 2019, Canadian writer Margaret Atwood’s literary agent revealed that the proofs of the highly anticipated sequel to The Scarlet Maid, Willshad also been targeted.

According to the indictment, which credits Bernardini with registering ‘160 fraudulent internet domains’, a Pulitzer Prize winner gave him ‘his forthcoming manuscript’, believing him to be his publisher, reports the AFP. indictment. Writers like Sally Rooney or Ian McEwan, and actor Ethan Hawke have also been approached, according to the New York Times.

What motives?

For now, the motives of Filippo Bernardini, who pleaded not guilty during his first appearance, remain unclear. If the indictment specifies that he carefully stored his loot in the same electronic box, it does not indicate what he did with the recovered works, and whether he made a financial profit from it. The act does not mention any possible complicity either.

Little information has leaked out about the suspect. According to screenshots of a LinkedIn profile that was no longer available on Friday, “Filippo B.”, “rights coordinator” at Simon & Schuster, presents himself as a Chinese language graduate at Università Cattolica (Milan) and publishing at UCL (London), a career he owes to his “obsession with writing and languages”.

The case is in any case embarrassing for the American publishing house based in New York, which counts Stephen King among its most prestigious authors.

The company announced that it had “suspended” its employee, “pending further information on the case”, saying it was “shocked and horrified” by the actions of the suspect.

“Protecting the intellectual property of our authors is of the utmost importance to Simon & Schuster and to the publishing industry as a whole,” adds the company, which thanks the FBI.

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Manuscript pirate arrested in New York