Chinese Slam Google ‘Violations’

Writers protest alleged infringements, in a move that could signal a major shift in China’s intellectual property rights climate.
2009-10-30
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Screen shot taken on 30 October 2009 shows the Chinese website of Google Books.
Screen shot taken on 30 October 2009 shows the Chinese website of Google Books.
RFA Graphic

HONG KONG—Chinese writers are ramping up pressure on Internet giant Google over alleged violations of their copyright, with the company seeking an out-of-court settlement in the hope of avoiding a major lawsuit.

The allegations have sent writers across China rushing to hold meetings with their lawyers, as a Google executive flies into Beijing ahead of talks with the country’s writers’ copyright watchdog.

“Google has definitely infringed our copyright. This is an infringement behavior,” said Wang Zhongqi, coordinator of the Tianjin Writers Association.

“Google has never discussed copyright issues with us,” he said.

Chinese writers face rampant and blatant infringements of copyright in their home market, as do foreign authors.

But they are now taking U.S. critics to task for protesting Chinese copyright violations while Google is copying works without prior authorization and posting them online.

No communications

“They never contacted us,” Wang said.

“I am the one who is responsible for this, and I have never received phone calls or communications from them,” Wang said, adding that 20 Tianjin writers were meeting with lawyers Friday to discuss their options.

Google’s Asia-Pacific chief Erik Hartmann has already arrived in Beijing ahead of talks scheduled with the China Written Works Society on Monday.

According to a report in the official English-language China Daily, the Chinese Written Works Copyright Society found nearly 18,000 books by 570 Chinese authors that had been scanned by Google and included in its digital library, most of them without any notification or payment to the writers.

Zhang Hongbo, deputy chief executive of the Society, said he wants to resolve the dispute without a lawsuit.

He said the Society has been asked by several hundred writers to act on their behalf in negotiations with Google.

“We will have the meeting next week,” Zhang said. “We are continuing with internal discussions now. What happens will depend on what progress we make in the meeting.”

Google’s offer

Repeated calls to Google’s China public relations office went unanswered during office hours Thursday.

Zhang Kangkang, vice president of the China Writers Association, said several dozen of her books had been scanned and posted on Google Books without her authorization, and that she had had no communication from Google on the matter.

“We need to clear up the legal position here,” she said. Does Google have the right to digitalize our books? ... If this is really an infringement of our rights, they will not be allowed to do this in future.”

Google offered in October to pay each author at least U.S. $60 per book scanned, with 63 percent of any future sales revenue going to the copyright owner.

It told the Associated Press in a statement that while the offer only applied to U.S.-based authors, the company was “actively encouraging authors, publishers, and rights-holders around the world to register for the settlement.”

The authors now have until Jan. 5 to file a lawsuit, or until June to file claims under the current offer.

Chinese lawyer Li Jianqiang said it would be very difficult for Chinese writers to accept the deal, as it was proposed unilaterally by Google.

“Google ... should have no right to coerce the Chinese writers,” Li said.

“It is not certain that Google would win this lawsuit if it went through the legal system. In dollar terms, the compensation could be more or it could be less.”

Arrogance alleged

Writer Zhou Qing said that the widespread perception of Google’s behavior was one of arrogance.

“Their mentality is, we have money and we can do anything,” Zhou said.

“This combination of a rich company and a corrupt country like China have produced a monster.”

But he rejected calls by Chinese netizens to boycott Google on nationalistic grounds.

“People should use their rationality, as this case has nothing to do with hyper-nationalism,” he said.

“It is as simple as this—you should have let me know before you used my products.”

The government-affiliated Chinese Written Works Copyright Society was set up a year ago to represent writers amid a growing number of copyright violations.

Original reporting in Cantonese by Hai Nan and in Mandarin by Wen Jian. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Additional translation by Jia Yuan. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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