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The Publishing World Has Been Battling a Truly Bizarre Thief

Someone has been working to access manuscripts for years, but not for profit
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 21, 2021 8:00 AM CDT
The Publishing World Has Fallen Victim to a Truly Bizarre Thief
   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – Reeves Wiedeman has spent years trying to unravel a literary-world mystery, and his lengthy recap of his digging for New York Magazine is confounding at times. As is the mystery. In simplest terms, for the past four years someone has been using somewhat sophisticated measures to try to steal book manuscripts before their release. What's unclear is who, and more perplexingly, to what end. Wiedeman explains the thief registers fake domains and email addresses that parrot real ones (think wylieaqency.com instead of wylieagency.com) belonging to real people in the industry. The lingo is correct (think "MS" for manuscript), the tone is familiar, and the industry knowledge is high. For instance, Wiedeman shares a 2017 attempt to get a copy of the fifth book in Stieg Larsson’s "Millennium" series.

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The Swedish publisher had taken some extreme measures to safeguard it, including sending it to foreign publishers using an encrypted-email service with passwords shared over the phone. Catherine Mörk and Linda Altrov Berg were the ones sending it out, and they got an email purportedly from the book's Italian-edition editor asking that the link be resent. It was really the thief, and "only a few dozen people in the world knew the book was being shared with foreign publishers and that Mörk and Altrov Berg controlled access to it," writes Wiedeman. The thief did manage to get sent many manuscripts, if not that one, but he didn't then pirate them or demand a ransom. It seemed a "crime of which the primary consequence was annoyance. ... Whoever they were... they cared enough to keep at it for years, devoting countless hours to sending endless emails—all seemingly for nothing." (Read the full story for much more on the deception and the clues Wiedeman parsed through.)

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