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Filippo Bernardini: Italian admits stealing unpublished books

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    17 hours ago

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An Italian man has admitted stealing more than 1,000 unpublished manuscripts, many written by high-profile authors.

Filippo Bernardini impersonated figures from the publishing industry to trick people into handing over their works.

He used his inside industry knowledge, having been employed by the publishing giant Simon & Schuster in London.

Bernardini, 30, pleaded guilty in New York to wire fraud, but his motive has never been clear.

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Manuscripts were not found to have been leaked on the internet, nor were any ransom demands made.

The conviction of Bernardini, who was arrested by the FBI in January last year, appears to explain a mystery that has baffled the literary world for years, with Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Sally Rooney among the novelists targeted.

Prosecutors said he registered more than 160 fake internet domains from 2016.

Agents, editors and Booker Prize judges all fell victim to phishing scams from slightly altered official-looking email addresses, requesting manuscripts of works by authors including Booker winner Margaret Atwood.

In an interview with The Bookseller in 2019, Atwood confirmed there had been “concerted efforts to steal the manuscript” of her book, The Testaments, before it was released.

“There were lots of phoney emails from people trying to winkle even just three pages, even just anything,” she noted.

Daniel Sandström, editor of Swedish publisher Albert Bonniers Förlag, who was among those targeted, said it was difficult to know what the motivation for the scam was.

“The literary answer to that question, I think, I mean somebody was doing it for the thrill of it and there’s a psychological enigma at the bottom of this story,” he told the BBC.

“A less romanticised answer would be that… this was somebody who liked to feel important and pulling strings, and that this was a trick in order to achieve that.”

Although Bernardini worked at Simon & Schuster, there was no suggestion that the publishing house was at fault and it was not named in the legal papers.

“We are grateful to the FBI and Department of Justice for its defence and support of the intellectual property rights of authors throughout the world,” the publisher said in a statement on Friday.

Bernardini will be sentenced in April. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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