The New York Times
BEIJING — Google has agreed to hand over a list of books by Chinese authors that it has scanned in recent years, company executives said on Monday, in an apparent effort to placate writers who say their works were digitized without their permission. In a letter sent to an association of 8,000 Chinese writers, Google also apologized for any misunderstanding that might have angered authors and said it would work to forge an agreement on digitizing books by early summer.
“We definitely agree that we haven’t done a sufficient job in communicating with Chinese writers,” Erik Hartmann, who runs the Asia-Pacific division of Google Books, wrote in a letter to the China Writers’ Association, which posted the letter Sunday on its Web site. The clash between Google and the Chinese writers group mirrors similar strife that has accompanied the company’s Books Search project, an ambitious effort to digitize every known book and make the contents searchable online.
Writers in the United States, France and Germany have filed lawsuits seeking to stop the company from digitizing works without the explicit permission of copyright holders. Some litigants have demanded monetary compensation for scanned books.
Last month Mian Mian, a novelist in Shanghai, became the first Chinese writer to sue Google for copyright infringement. A judge has urged both sides to settle the litigation. Google insists it is following Chinese and American copyright law and says digitized books are deleted upon the request of an author or publisher. It also rejects assertions that the company has made some Chinese books available on the Internet in their entirety.
“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,” Courtney Hohne, a Google spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail message. “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.” Ms. Hohne said that more than 50 Chinese publishers had agreed to allow 60,000 books to be included in the company’s scanning program.
Zhang Hongbo, the secretary general of the China Written Works Copyright Society, which manages Chinese copyrights, hailed the letter and the apology. “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.”
Some media accounts suggested that the search engine giant had caved to the group’s demands, but Google insisted that it had agreed only to provide a list of scanned titles and to find a workable solution for both sides.
In his letter, Mr. Hartmann, the Google executive, described the agreement to release scanned book titles as “unprecedented” and asked Chinese writers to appreciate the company’s sincere interest in settling the issue amicably.