Google Apologizes to Chinese Authors over Book Search Kerfuffle

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Google (GOOG), the Web giant with ever-expanding ambitions, has apologized to thousands of Chinese authors furious that the Internet juggernaut scanned their work for inclusion in Google's book-search project without obtaining their permission, they say. In an effort to tamp down the growing furor, Google has also agreed to turn over a list of books written by Chinese authors that it has scanned as part of its book initiative.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Google said it aims to reach a deal with Chinese authors over the project by this summer. But other than apologizing for a lack of communication, it's remains unclear how -- if at all -- Google plans to actually change its book-scanning practices. The company sent a letter to a Chinese literary association, which represents some 8,000 authors, apologizing for not adequately communicating with the Chinese publishing industry.

Communication Breakdown

"Google is willing to apologize to Chinese writers for its conduct," wrote Erik Hartmann, who runs the Asia-Pacific division of Google Books, in a letter to the China Writers' Association. "We hope the dispute with Chinese writers can be settled successfully," in the second quarter of 2010, he said.

"We definitely agree that we haven't done a sufficient job in communicating with Chinese writers," Hartmann added.

Google's spat with Chinese authors is just the latest controversy over Google's typically ambitious plan to scan millions of books and make then available on the Internet. Google is still waiting for a federal judge to sign off on a settlement it reached with the Author's Guild over the book scanning project; a final hearing is scheduled for Feb. 18.

But the proposed settlement hasn't stopped authors around the world from suing Google, and in some cases seeking monetary damages.

Author Seeks Damages

Last month, Mian Mian, a Shanghai-based author, filed the first known lawsuit against Google by a Chinese writer, according to a report in the official English-language newspaper China Daily, which was cited in numerous Western media reports. Mian accused Google of scanning her novel Acid Lover without her knowledge or permission, and making it available on the Web.

Mian seeks nearly $9,000 in damages, as well as a public apology. Google deleted Mian's book from its index, but passages apparently still can be found through web searches.

Despite Google's conciliatory letter, Mian's lawyer, Sun Jingwei, said the author has not been appeased. "So far, the case is still on," Sun said, according to the The Wall Street Journal.

Google sought to defend its book scanning project, insisting that it follows strict copyright guidelines, and would never include a book against an individual author's wishes.

Google: We're Not Evil

"In China like everywhere else, if a book is in copyright we don't show more than a few snippets of text without the explicit permission of the rights holder," a Google spokeswoman wrote in a statement. "In addition, we have a longstanding policy of honoring authors' wishes, and authors or publishers who wish to exclude their book may do so at any time."

"Our goal remains bringing millions of the world's difficult-to-find, out-of-print books back to life, in addition to giving millions of new books attention through direct relationships with publishers," the statement added. "Google Books is fully compliant with U.S. and Chinese law."

Zhang Hongbo, secretary general of China Written Works Copyright Society, which manages Chinese copyrights, praised Google's letter, according to The New York Times. "It is a result that all Chinese copyright holders have been waiting for," he said. "We look forward to Google's deeper understanding of this issue."

Google may well reach a "deeper understanding" of the issue -- an understanding not to anger authors in the world's most populous country. But the search titan may need to offer more than soothing words -- in the form of concrete changes to its plan -- to ameliorate the concerns of the Chinese authors.
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