True Crime Thursday – Please Send Your Unpublished Manuscript

Photo credit: Dim Hou, Unsplash

By Debbie Burke



A weird literary crime made news on January 5, 2022 when the FBI announced the arrest of an Italian citizen Filippo Bernardini, 29, at JFK Airport in New York.

The charges against him? Wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.

What did he do? He allegedly impersonated publishing company executives and persuaded authors to send him pre-publication manuscripts. Targets included luminaries like Margaret Atwood.

Since 2016, the writing community has speculated about this peculiar case. For five years, well-known authors had received emails purportedly from editors and agents, requesting unpublished manuscripts. Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware and trade organizations like the Authors Guild publicized the strange requests and alerted writers.

It appeared to be a scam yet no one could quite figure it out.

Turns out Mr. Bernardini was an employee of Simon and Schuster in London where he worked as a rights coordinator. S&S has not been named in the indictment and is not believed responsible.

To further his scheme, Bernardini secured more than 160 web domains and set up bogus email accounts and lookalike websites to mislead people into believing they were communicating with an actual editor, agent, scout, or publishing executive.

For instance, if a legitimate email was, the letters r and n placed together were substituted for m. Without close examination, passed muster.

Bernardini allegedly used multiple phony email addresses to contact Pulitzer-winning authors and bestsellers, asking them to send their manuscripts to him before they had been finalized.

According to the FBI statement:

These prepublication manuscripts are valuable, and the unauthorized release of a manuscript can dramatically undermine the economics of publishing, and publishing houses generally work to identify and stop the release of pirated, prepublication, manuscripts.  Such pirating can also undermine the secondary markets for published work, such as film and television, and can harm an author’s reputation where an early draft of written material is distributed in a working form that is not in a finished state.

The biggest question remains WHY?

The stolen manuscripts were not published on pirate sites. No one appeared to reap benefits, financial or otherwise, from the thefts.

If Bernardini hoped to receive credit as the author for works written by others, surely in the small, insular world of publishing, such books would have been recognized long before they were released.

Photo credit: Ben White, Unsplash

Did he receive a thrill because he possessed pre-publication drafts by noted authors?

Was it like having an early unfinished version of the Mona Lisa hidden in your attic?

Whatever his motivation, he now faces a mandatory two years in prison with the maximum sentence determined by the judge.


TKZers: Care to speculate on Bernardini’s motives?

LinkedIn Tied to Book Piracy

By Debbie Burke

Photo credit: dolldreamer

A hot topic recently caught fire at the Author’s Guild discussion site: the embarrassing connection between social media giant LinkedIn and book piracy.

LinkedIn owns Slideshare, a knowledge-sharing site. Slideshare is also a popular venue for free downloads of books without the permission of the authors.

In other words, book piracy.

In September, 2019, Margaret Atwood’s highly-anticipated sequel, The Testaments, appeared on Slideshare for free, covered in this article.

Screenshot of my book on Slideshare without my permission



Thousands of other books, from famous to obscure, show up on Slideshare without the author’s permission or approval, including my own thriller, Stalking Midas.


How, you ask, do pirates make money from free book downloads?

They don’t…directly.

If you click on those teasers, you’ll likely wind up at phishing sites that contain malware and viruses. Their purpose is to mine credit card data and personal information. You might get free books but lose your identity or worse.

The Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA) made such copyright violations illegal. Authors can demand illicit copies of their work be taken down. The procedure to file complaints is described here.

Photo credit: sasatro on Visual Hunt



But pirates aren’t exactly quaking in fear of punishment for their theft.




The fastest way for authors to find if their books are listed is to search, using book title and author name. 

LinkedIn, of course, is facing criticism for their tacit enabling of the crime. Here is their policy, which includes a complaint form to report copyright violations.

Although the form asks for the copyright number, that number is not necessary to register a complaint.

The form also requests URLs of the offending sites. Some books appear in hundreds of places. Tracking them all down further burdens authors, taking precious time away from writing to search for pirates.

Authors Guild members report mixed results after filing complaints with Slideshare. Some say the illicit links have been removed within a short time; others claim that, despite repeated complaints and takedown requests, the links remain up for months; still others report the links are removed but new ones pop up again.

Many authors believe LinkedIn–owned by tech giant Microsoft–should be sophisticated enough to flag repeat offenders and block pirate sites.

Romy Wyllie, author of several architecture books, was shocked to find those books as well as her memoir, Loving Andrew – A Fifty-Two-Year Story of Down Syndrome, on Slideshare. “I never thought of LinkedIn except as a professional social media site.  I am considering cancelling my membership in LinkedIn.”

Whack a Mole
Photo credit: Eric Parker, Visual Hunt

Author Chris Dickon was dismayed to find four of his books on Slideshare. “I can deal with the problem as prescribed, though others have reported it to be a game of whack a mole, but my real question was – Linked In?? which purports to exist to help us all to develop and realize our professional and creative goals, economic progress, etc. but is corporately involved in the theft of our creative product and income, Linked In!?!

Chris didn’t simply fill out the standard complaint form—he went straight to the top and contacted the CEO and co-CEO of LinkedIn. That resulted in a long phone conversation between LI representatives and Chris: “Linked In…presents itself as a friend and supporter of our professional well being, its very raison d’etre, [but is] involved in stealing from us.”

LI personnel indicated to him that, although they were aware of the problem, they didn’t realize the level of outrage it is causing among authors. 

It really should come as no surprise to LinkedIn that authors are angry our work is being stolen via a supposedly legitimate platform. 

LI followed up with Chris and invited him to stay in touch. At this point, he is satisfied with their handling of his complaint.

Other authors are publicizing the problem through social media.

William H. Reid, MD, MPH, tweeted: “SHAME on LinkedIn & subsidiary for letting book pirate scum distribute many of my books and thousands of others with no royalties to authors or publishers. Thanks for buying A Dark Night in Aurora from Amazon, B&N, & local bookstores! #LinkedIn #authorsguild”

Mary Rasenberger, Executive Director of the Authors Guild, is in discussions with Microsoft and urges all affected authors to file complaints to put LI on notice.

At this point, LinkedIn is hiding behind the safe harbor provision in DMCA, a loophole that protects online service providers (OSP).  There are “two ways in which an OSP can be put on notice of infringing material on its system: 1) notice from the copyright owner, known as notice and take down, and 2) the existence of ‘red flags.'” 

If an OSP ignores repeat offenders, they can lose their safe harbor status. Many aggrieved authors believe LI no longer deserves that protection.

Five days after filing my complaint and takedown notice with LI, I received an auto-reply of their action. Stalking Midas has been removed…for now.

As an aside, LinkedIn proudly touts their executive who holds the position of Head of Mindfulness and Compassion. The question is: when will LI become mindful of widespread, blatant copyright violation and show compassion toward authors who are being victimized?

When supposedly legitimate corporations like LinkedIn and Microsoft enable theft, all authors suffer.


TKZers: Do your books show up on Slideshare? If so, what action did you take? What were the results? 




Debbie Burke will be watching to see if her new thriller, Eyes in the Sky, shows up on pirate sites. Publication date January 23, 2020, now available for pre-order here.

More Signs of the Times

By Joe Moore

In a recent article in The Economist, it was reported that in the first five months of this year, sales of consumer e-books in the U.S. surpassed those of adult hardback books. Only a year before, it was 3 to 1 in favor of hardbacks. Amazon now sells more e-books than paper copies. It’s predicted that as more bookstores close, that will just continue to increase.

Another sign of the times: furniture manufacturers like IKEA are introducing book cases that aren’t designed to hold real books.

The publishing industry is running behind newspapers and music in moving into the digital world. But while the music and newspaper industries are in decline, many publishers feel the transition to ones and zeros will have better results. One big reason is that digitization will breathe new life into old titles and out-of-print books. Some genres, such as serialized romance novels, has a very short shelf life. This will no longer be a big factor since e-books never go out of print. Fans can access these books any time after publication thus extending the income potential for the publisher and author.

Despite this glowing advantage, the article also points out a couple of darker concerns. Number one on the list is piracy. Unlike a digitized movie or music album, e-book files are very small. BitTorrent-powered peer-to-peer websites make sharing and downloading books easy. Accessing the latest bestseller for your e-reader takes only seconds. And it’s widespread and growing like weeds. I get a couple of Google Alerts a week notifying me of new websites where my e-books can be downloaded for free.

Pricing is another threat and directly contributes to piracy. The higher the price, the better the chance that someone will go looking for a free download.

Then there’s the demise of the brick and mortar bookstore. As more stores close, the ability of a publisher to market and promote their books disappears. In the case of Hollywood, fully produced movie trailers run on TV and the Internet, and with music, radio stations are the main path to promotion. But as the number of bookstores decreases, so does the ability of publishers to promote their latest books, virtually the only cost efficient marketing outlet they’ve had up until now.

So with the steady growth of e-books, which one of these issues has directly affected the writers out there? Is your backlist being given a rebirth in digital format? Are your books being pirated? Are the bookstores in your town hanging on or vanishing? Has your publisher found other avenues to promote your work?

Pirates Ahoy

by Michelle Gagnon

I received a Google alert last week for a website called, “” I clicked on it, and lo and behold, it led to a file sharing site. And there were all three of my books, in their entirety, available for free download. Including THE GATEKEEPER, which was just released two weeks ago.

Obviously this is not a rarity, I know plenty of other authors who have been the victims of piracy. And to the site’s credit, as soon as my publisher’s legal department contacted them, the files were removed. But still–who knows how many free copies were downloaded during the few days that the files were posted? Ebook downloads still constitute a small portion of overall sales–but did the free files make a dent in my Kindle and/or Sony Reader sales? Impossible to say.

The publishing industry is entering a new phase. They’re now confronting issues that the music industry has been wrestling with for the past decade. Year after year, total music sales have declined, and industry insiders attribute much of that loss to the continued popularity of pirated songs. According to a report issued in January by the IFPI, fully ninety-five percent of all online music downloads were unauthorized.
The statistics are much lower for pirated books, but it’s only going to get worse. As eBook readers come down in price, chances are they’ll become as ubiquitous as iPods. And when that happens, this type of piracy will become more and more prevalent.

Most authors who renewed contracts in the year since the financial meltdown saw their advances slashed by thirty percent or more. Combine piracy with the impact of the book price wars, and it’ll become nearly impossible for most writers to eke out a living from their work.

Last week Declan Burke posted a poignant message about why he’s decided it’s no longer feasible to pursue a career as a writer. Unfortunately, there’s a chance that more and more authors will be forced into making the same decision. Our own John Ramsey Miller recently posted about the difficulties writers face today, and how it only seems to be getting harder.

Some people argue that self-publishing ebooks will fill this void. To be honest, I have my doubts. First of all, the benefit of an advance is that it enables an author to pay the bills while writing the book. You also receive editorial assistance, marketing help, and distribution. I can say for a fact that without that editorial help, all of my books would have suffered. Sure, I could hire an outside editor–but that would involve more money out of pocket. Throw in cover design, formatting, marketing materials…and my ebook would enter the marketplace down a few thousand dollars. So I’d need to earn at least that to see a profit.

And if the marketplace is flooded with self-published books (which is already happening), how does an author stand out among the crowd? Even if you manage to claw out a niche for yourself, how do you sell enough books to earn a living? I know authors who are garnering a few thousand dollars a year from their ebooks, but that’s clearly not enough to survive on. And it’s only going to become more difficult.

Sorry to be all doom and gloom, but the truth was that seeing my work posted for free struck me as a harbinger of worse things to come. I spent a year of my life on each of those books. If you factor in the total hours worked on them, I earned less than minimum wage for their creation. And now someone was giving them away, completely disregarding all of that effort. Someone was basically saying that they were worthless, so people might as well have them for free.

I realize that “Rachell” probably didn’t have all this in mind when she converted the files so they could be shared. But think of it this way. You can’t leave a restaurant without paying for a meal, otherwise the next time you go, the restaurant will likely have closed since they couldn’t pay their bills. A good meal costs money to produce; so does a good book. If you don’t pay for things, down the road they won’t be there for you. So if you love books, and want to continue enjoying the same wide selection down the line, for God’s sake buy them. If you want to read them for free, get a library card. Anything else just makes you a thief, and in the end you’ll be stuck eating mac and cheese.

Pirates of the Web

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Yesterday’s New York Times ran an article entitled “Will Books Be Napsterized” and I have to confess it felt as though yet another nail was being hammered into the coffin of traditional publishing. Although I’m not at all the kind of person to a) become neurotic about the whole thing or b) don a placard proclaiming the end of the world is nigh (hold it, I’m an author, I’m exactly that kind of person!), recent articles about the digital piracy issue still give me pause.

According to this article there are currently 166 copies of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol available free on the web – 102 of these copies attributable to one file sharing site alone (RapidShare). Now I’m all for authors promoting free content on the web and encouraging new readers but only when the writers and publishers get a chance to actually authorize this to occur. Although Dan Brown’s book is clearly still selling strong in both traditional and e-book format, you have to wonder what the impact of digital piracy will be in 3 or 5 years from now when e-books account for a much greater proportion of the market. Illegal file sharing could then significantly impact even a bestseller like Brown – but imagine the impact on smaller publishers and authors alike. It could be (as the NYT article says) a Napster like event.
The article cites evidence from multiple studies that indicate that 95% of music downloads are “unauthorized, with no payments to artists and producers”. Given the angst-ridden state of the publishing industry today – can you imagine if this were true for books one day?
Apparently file sharing sites usually try to console the industry by pointing to the success stories of the music industry – who have used free content as a way of building a sustainable fan base. Again, I totally accept and agree that free content is a great way to introduce readers to your work – and that building a readership base who will hopefully go out and purchase more of your work is critical – yet as the NYT article points out, authors rarely get to recoup their artistic investment by playing to packed arenas or using pirated e-books as ‘concert fliers’. The majority of authors are probably totally unaware of pirated copies of their books available on the web (I certainly am – and given my lowly status I can’t say I’m worried now but I certainly would be if I actually became popular:)).
So what do you think? Are the Napster fears justified? Is the promotional value of free content enough to justify some of the existing file sharing? Look into your crystal ball and tell me what you see (but please if you see me destitute on a street corner talking to myself just keep it to yourself…)