Google Books halted a scheduled negotiation over alleged copyright violations with China's copyright society in Beijing yesterday, leaving a formal apology hanging in air.
Google Books' top negotiator in China, Erik Hartmann, called his counterpart, Zhang Hongbo, deputy director of China Written Works Copyright Society (CWWCS), at about 10 am and said Google wanted to postpone the negotiation scheduled for 2 pm that day.
"He (Erik) was friendly, but did not explain the exact reason, and we are discussing when to restart the negotiation," Zhang told China Daily.
Google Books was accused of scanning 18,000 books by 570 Chinese writers without paying or notifying the authors. It plans to set up a digital library.
Google Books supplied a list to the CWWCS of more than 80,000 Chinese works in late December, but Chinese representatives claimed it was incomplete as it did not include books published before 1987.
The Chinese Writers' Association (CWA) published a reply from Google Books last week in which company officials said they are "ready to apologize to Chinese authors."
"Following discussions and communications in recent months, we do believe that our communication with Chinese writers has not been good enough," Google said in the scanned letter posted on the association's website.
"Google is ready to apologize to Chinese writers about this," said the letter, which bore the signature of Hartmann, Asia-Pacific head of Google Books.
Some Chinese media considered the latest occurrence a victory for the Chinese authors, saying this is the first time in the world that Google Books has apologized to any authors.
Yang Chengzhi, a senior official from the CWA, said the communication between CWA and Google so far has been relatively "satisfying."
"We sent Google an announcement in late December, urging them to stop scanning Chinese works, submit a scanned book list and offer a settlement before the end of 2009. It seems Google did as we demanded until now."
Google was not available for comment yesterday.