Google violating copyrights, authors say

By Xie Yu (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-10-21 07:49

Search engine giant Google is facing accusations that its employees, illegally and without permission, scanned Chinese writers' works into its digital library, Google Books.

"Google's infringement to Chinese authors is very severe," said Zhang Hongbo, deputy director-general of China Written Works Copyright Society (CWWCS), the only domestic administration of written works copyrights.

Chinese government departments, such as the National Copyright Administration, will push the US government to handle the issue properly, considering Google is such a major force in the online world and has acted arbitrarily in this issue, he said.

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According to a rough estimate from CWWCS, nearly 18,000 books from 570 Chinese writers have been scanned by Google and included in its digital library, which is only open to netizens within the US borders. This was done without informing or paying most of the writers.

"So far, no writer we reached said he or she has authorized Google to do the scanning," Zhang said.

Google has not yet replied to the accusation. Its spokesman was not available for comment yesterday.

Google has been scanning millions of books under US copyright since 2004. Under a tentative settlement with US authors and publishers, that will cover all books unless the copyright holders object.

Google is in the final stages of reaching a settlement with two US copyright organizations, which brought copyright infringement lawsuits against the search company for its book-scanning project.

A US court has given the parties until early next month to revise their current settlement agreement and ensure its compliance with antitrust and copyright laws.

According to the settlement offered by Google, authors who accept Google's scan could get $60 per book as compensation, as well as 63 percent of the income from online reading. Readers of the books online would pay a fee for digital access to the book.

According to the settlement, if the author rejects Google's right to scan, he or she should appeal before Jan 5, 2010. Authors should approach Google authorizing the scanning and get the compensation before June 5, 2010.

But Zhang said this settlement is not acceptable to Chinese writers.

"First of all, Google violated Chinese writers' copyright. It doesn't make sense for them to set a deadline for Chinese writers to protect their interests.

"Secondly, the company should show a clear attitude to admitting its infringement and then negotiate with Chinese authors sincerely," he said.

The US often criticizes China's inefficiency in protecting property rights, Zhang said.

"But you see what their company is doing in China? Many of our writers are infuriated," Zhang said.

Zhang Kangkang, a prominent writer and also vice-president of the Chinese Writers' Association, said she was "surprised" and "angry" at Google's copyright infringement.

"It's one-sided agreement to scan the work without permission from the author. It is illegal to enjoy the writer's work in the name of knowledge sharing," said Zhang, whose books have been scanned by Google.

Chen Cun, another well-known Chinese writer who lives in Shanghai, said Google is "day-dreaming" if it wants to buy copyright from him for $60.

"The price should be set by both sides. It is impossible to buy an object with your bid only," he said.

Google Books is planning to turn millions of books into electronic literature available online.

Google's head of Print Content Partnerships in Britain, Santiago de la Mora, earlier said that Google is solving one of the big problems in the print world - that some books are pretty much dead in the sense that hard copies can no longer be found.

"We're bringing these books back to life, making them more visible to 1.8 billion Internet users in a very controlled way," de la Mora said.

However, Google Books is facing big legal problems in the US, Europe and elsewhere around the globe over the issue of copyrights.