Rare Book Monthly

Articles - February - 2022 Issue

Publishing Company Employee Charged in Massive Manuscript Theft

Indictment handed down in manuscript theft.

A publishing company employee has been arrested in a new twist on an old crime - manuscript theft. It is a scheme that fits with the reality of how manuscripts of books are written today. They are not created on reams of paper, handwritten with a pen or typed upon by a typewriter. They are created on computers, digital impulses rather than tangible substances such as paper.

 

Filippo Bernardini, a 29-year-old Italian citizen working in London, was arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 5 after arriving on an overseas flight. Bernardini worked for the London office of book publisher Simon & Schuster as a Rights Coordinator. His actions were unknown to his employer and were not conducted as part of his responsibilities though he clearly made use of information he gained through his publishing connections to perpetrate his enormous fraud. He has been stealing hundreds of prepublication manuscripts from authors or others as far back has 2016.

 

According to the U. S. Department of Justice, Bernardini pulled off his scheme by misrepresenting his identity and whom he represented. The D.O.J. alleged, Bernardini “created fake email accounts that were designed to impersonate real people employed in the publishing industry, including literary talent agencies, publishing houses, literary scouts, and others. Bernardini created these accounts by registering more than 160 internet domains that were crafted to be confusingly similar to the real entities that they were impersonating, including only minor typographical errors that would be difficult for the average recipient to identity during a cursory review.” For example, they alleged he would replace the letter “m” with an “r” and an “n”. Put together – rn – can easily be mistake for “m.” An author could easily be led to believe he or she was responding to someone from a well-known site, not a fake.

 

The D.O.J. then provided a specific example of what was done (slightly edited for clarity): “In September 2020, Bernardini “utilized a fraudulent email address impersonating a well-known editor and publisher who worked for an imprint of a U.S. publishing house. Impersonating the Editor, Bernardini emailed a Pulitzer Prize winning author and requested a copy of a word version of the Author’s forthcoming manuscript, which the Author sent to Bernardini, believing him to be the Editor. Over the course of this scheme, Bernardini impersonated hundreds of distinct people and engaged in hundreds of unique efforts to fraudulently obtain electronic copies of manuscripts that he was not entitled to.”

 

In another instance, the D.O.J. said Bernardini used a “phishing” scheme to gain access to a New York scouting company's database, then created a web page impersonating that company's website. Next, impersonating a scouting company employee, he emailed two clients, sending them to the fake website, and got them to use their usernames and passwords. The site was designed so it would send the usernames and passwords to Bernardini's private email address.

 

It has been well-known in the trade that someone has been engaging in these phishing expeditions for several years, so voluminous have they been. It has also been known that the person or persons were insiders in the business based on evident knowledge of the trade. What has not been known is who and why. Even if the FBI has the right suspect, the why remains a mystery. The immediate guess is that such an individual hoped to get credit for a great book before published under the true author's name, but there has been no evidence of any such attempt. In fact, there has been no evidence of any use of the information, such as blackmail or demands for ransom. Perhaps the knowledge would have somehow benefited the perpetrator's standing in the trade or with his employer, but it is not clear how. The FBI had no answer either. It recognized the value of prepublication manuscripts, how authors and publishers could be damaged by their prerelease, and harm a writer's reputation by releasing an unedited draft. However, that does not explain what the thief hoped to gain through the theft.

 

Bernardini was charged with wire fraud, which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, and aggravated identity theft which adds a mandatory two additional years to the preceding charge. He pleaded not guilty. Bail was set at $300,000 plus the wearing of an electronic monitor because of the flight risk of a foreign citizen. Simon and Schuster suspended Bernardini pending further developments and issued a statement saying, “the safekeeping of our authors’ intellectual property is of primary importance to Simon & Schuster, and for all in the publishing industry, and we are grateful to the FBI for investigating these incidents and bringing charges against the alleged perpetrator.”

Rare Book Monthly

  • Bonhams, July 15-25: THE AUTOGRAPH COLLECTION OF ISRAEL WITKOWER. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: GEORGE WASHINGTON SIGNED DISCHARGE. June 9, 1783. $8,000 - $12,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: "Shhhhh!" A DAVID SHANNON ILLUSTRATION FROM DAVID GETS IN TROUBLE. $2,500 - $3,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: PICASSO, PABLO. Le Carmen des Carmen. Paris, 1964. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: RARE AUTOGRAPH OF AMERICAN NAVAL HERO CAPTAIN JAMES MUGFORD. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: KARA WALKER SILHOUETTES FOR TONI MORRISON'S FIVE POEMS. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FIRST APPEARANCE OF PINOCCHIO IN ENGLISH. COLLODI, CARLO.New York, 1892. $2,000 - $3,000
    Bonhams, July 15-25: BONAPARTE, JOSEPHINE. Autograph Note (unsigned) in French. $1,000 - $1,500
    Bonhams, July 15-25: FROST ON MATTHEW ARNOLD.Autograph Letter Signed to Adams, July 27, 1934. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: ELIAS BOUDINOT'S COPY OF BARLOW'S COLUMBIAN EPIC. $800 - $1,200
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A SIGNED HART CRANE BROOKLYN BRIDGE POSTCARD TO EDWARD DAHLBERG. $600 - $800
    Bonhams, July 15-25: A STOCK CERTIFICATE SIGNED BY THE "QUEEN OF WALL STREET," HETTY GREEN. $700 - $900
  • Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: U.S. / European Shipping Archive 1800-1814. The Widow Bermingham & Sons Collection. €7,000 to €10,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Bunreacht na hÉireann. Constitution of Ireland. An important copy of the First Printing of De Valera’s new Constitution, approved in 1938. Signed by the Constitution Cabinet. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: A Rare Complete Run of the Cuala Press Broadsides. €7,000 to €9,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Grose (Francis). The Antiquities of Ireland, 2vols. folio London (for S. Hooper) 1791. Magnificent Hand-Coloured Copy - Only 25 Copies. €3,000 to €5,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Cantillon (Richard). Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, Traduit de l'Anglois, Sm. 8vo London (Fletcher Gyles) 1756. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Gregory, (Lady Augusta). Spreading the News: The Rising of the Moon: The Poorhouse (with Douglas Hyde). Being Vol. IX of the Abbey Theatre Series. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
    Summer Rare Book
    & Collectors’ Sale
    July 30-31, 2024
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Lavery (Lady Hazel). A moving series of three A.L.S. and a Telegram to Gen. Eoin O'Duffy, July-August 1927, expressing her grief at the death of Kevin O'Higgins. €3,000 to €4,000.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Dampier (Wm.) Nouveau Voyage Autour du Monde, ou l'on descrit en particulier l'Isthme de l'Amerique…, 2 vols. in one, Amsterdam, 1698. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Howell (James). Instructions for Forreine Travel Shewing by what Cours, and in what Compasse of Time…, London, 1642. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s
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    & Collectors’ Sale
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    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 8vo, L. (Bloomsbury) 1999, First Edn., First Printing of Deluxe Collectors Edn. Signed. €800 to €1,200.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: James (Wm.) A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of The Late War Between Great Britain and The United States of America. 2 vols. Lond. 1818. €650 to €900.
    Fonsie Mealy’s, July 30-31: The Laws of the United States, Published by Authority, 3 vols. Philadelphia (Richard Folwell) 1796. €600 to €800.
  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.

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