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Google Apologizes To Chinese Authors

January 11, 2010

Google Inc. issued a publicly apology over the weekend to a number of Chinese authors, excusing itself for inadequate communication with them before it began scanning their books into its digital library.  The apology is being viewed as a first step towards a rapprochement between the Internet behemoth and a Chinese writing guild amidst an ongoing legal row over copyright infringement.

For more than five years Google has been engaged in a visionary effort to make all of the world’s books accessible online through a massive digital book catalogue. 

Yet despite efforts to market the project as a rare chance for all authors to obtain exposure in otherwise inaccessible markets, Google has repeatedly run into problems with authors and publishers around the world who claim that the company has posted their works without permission.

On Sunday, The Chinese Writers’ Association posted a formal letter from Google on its website in which the Internet company acknowledged the organization’s grievances regarding a number of copyrighted works from Chinese authors.

“Following discussions and communications in recent months, we do believe that our communication with Chinese writers has not been good enough [and] Google is ready to apologize to Chinese writers about this,” read the letter, which was signed by the head of Google’s Asia-Pacific book division, Erik Hartmann.

Google has not yet confirmed the authenticity of the letter and calls to the company’s Hong Kong and China offices on Sunday went unanswered, according to the Associated Press.

In December 2009, Chinese author Mian Mian went before a court in country’s first civil lawsuit against Google, alleging that they had illegally scanned her works into their digital catalogue and demanding a meager compensation of 61,000 yuan (8,900 U.S. dollars). After the hearing in Beijing, the judge ordered both sides to attempt to reach a private settlement and then report back.

In a parallel case in Europe last month, a French court ordered Google to pay 300,000 euros (430,000 U.S. dollars) in damages for the illegal digitization of works from various French authors.

The supposed letter from Google appears just weeks after the government-sponsored China Written Works Copyright Society intervened on behalf of its native authors, issuing a statement in which it urged Google to offer an appropriate compensation package to authors whose works it had scanned.

The California-based search giant also stated in the letter that it hopes to reach an official agreement with Chinese writers by June at the latest, adding that they would take the “unprecedented” step of offering the writer’s organization a complete list scanned Chinese books.

Of the more than 10 million books already scanned in to Google’s Web library, 2 million of them have been given full copyright privileges by their respective publishers, while another 2 million are no longer copyrighted.  For the remaining 6 million works the company has made only excerpts available online until copyright issues are resolved with the thousands of authors and publishing houses.

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