Publishing Rights Coordinator Charged for Years of Manuscript Theft
By Megan Whitlock
Filippo Bernardini, an ex-Simon & Schuster rights coordinator, has been spared jail, instead agreeing to pay a fine of £72,700 (source: The Guardian) to Penguin Random House over his targeting of influential manuscripts. Bernardini, who earlier this year was arrested for stealing over 1,000 unpublished manuscripts from notable authors, was on trial for wire fraud after impersonating Agents, Editors, and Publishers to get his hands on exclusive writing.
The case is a particularly strange one, as Bernardini never leaked or sold the manuscripts, nor did he ever submit ransom demands or use them as leverage. Instead, he claimed in court documents that the theft came from a love of books, and a desire to feel like a publishing insider, which then spiralled into an “obsession.” Authors targeted in the scheme included Sally Rooney, Ian McEwan, and Booker winner Margaret Atwood. His method relied on his targets falling for a phishing scam, where he impersonated publishing authorities through marginally altered emails. According to legal documents, over the course of the fraud, Bernardini registered over 160 false domains from 2016 onwards.
His previous employer, Simon & Schuster, is not believed to have been targeted by Bernardini’s theft. However, in a statement to the BBC earlier this year, their spokesperson stated that: “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.”
Another notable twist in the tale is just quite how long the theft was able to go on for. Publishers Weekly reported on the phishing scam taking the industry by storm in October 2018, followed by an article in the New York Times in December 2020. The latter explored the inexplicability of the crime and was closely followed by a Vulture article in August 2021, dubbing the “mysterious” thief “The Spine Collector.” The name caught on and was used to refer to the anonymous culprit until Bernardini’s arrest at JFK airport, New York, in January of this year. Publishing professionals had long suspected that the thief would be one of their own, due to his in depth knowledge on industry jargon and who to impersonate.
In court documents, Bernardini wrote: “The cruel irony is that every time I open a book, it reminds me of my wrongdoings and what they led me to.”