Google apologises to Chinese writers over book flap

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The Independent Online

Internet giant Google has issued a public apology to Chinese writers and admitted that it scanned books under Chinese copyright for its Google Books digital library project.

A copy of the January 9 statement by the Asia-Pacific head of Google Books, Erik Hartmann, was posted on the website of the Chinese Writers Association, one of the groups leading accusations against Google, on Sunday.

Hartmann also appeared on Chinese state-run television on Sunday acknowledging the practice of scanning books had angered Chinese writers.

"Through the discussions and communications of recent months, it is our understanding that our communications with Chinese writers have not been good enough," Hartmann's written statement said.

"Google is willing to apologise to Chinese authors."

According to the China Written Works Copyright Society, tens of thousands of books by hundreds of Chinese authors have been added to Google Books, the US giant's project to digitise books and post them online.

The project has also raised objections from authors and publishers in the United States, France, Germany and elsewhere.

The China Written Works Copyright Society is in talks with Google to try to resolve outstanding copyright issues and agree terms for compensation, but Chinese writers have so far refused Google's offers.

On December 29, well-known Chinese fiction writer Mian Mian launched the country's first civil lawsuit against Google, seeking 61,000 yuan (8,900 dollars) in damages for scanning one of her novels.

Hartmann's statement promised Google would scan no more books without authorisation from Chinese writers but made no new offers, while expressing a desire to resolve the dispute by March.

Google reached a settlement with US authors and publishers last year over a copyright infringement suit filed in 2005.

Under the deal, Google agreed to pay 125 million dollars to resolve pending claims and establish an independent unit to provide revenue from sales and advertising to authors and publishers who agree to digitise their books.

A US judge has scheduled a hearing for February 18 on the revised settlement.

Last month, a court in France ordered Google to pay 300,000 euros (430,000 dollars) in damages for digitising French books.