Monday, January 04, 2010

Google's Chinese Troubles

Google finds itself in hot water again – this time from a Chinese novelist. Mian Mian, a counterculture writer known for her lurid tales of sex, drugs and nightlife, has filed a lawsuit against Google for scanning her latest novel "Acid House" without permission and putting it in its online library. Mian Mian is quite a colorful character. Based in Shanghai, she shot to fame in 2000 when she published the novel "Candy," which caused a stir with its graphic depiction of heroin use. Most of her work is banned in China, though pirated copies are widely available. “Candy” is translated into English and widely available for purchase online.

At the court session, which consisted of a two-hour hearing, a Beijing judge told the two sides to hold talks on a settlement. Mian Mian is seeking damages of 61,000 yuan ($8,950) and a public apology.

A Google spokeswoman in Beijing, Marsha Wang, said the company removed Mian Mian's works from its library as soon as it learned of the lawsuit, adding that Google had no further comment on the suit or Tuesday's hearing. She added that Mian Mian's lawsuit was the first that she knew of in China over the scanning plan. Since Google removed Mian Mian's works, she sees the matter as closes.

Mian Mian’s lawyer stated that a negotiated settlement was a possibility and the court set no deadline, adding: "we think even if they remove Mian Mian's work, their previous behavior is a violation of her rights. We demand a public apology."

This is the latest snag in Google's efforts to crate an online library, where printed works are available online. Previously, Google was under attack from writers in the United States and Europe (among others). Google reportedly has already scanned more than 10 million books, many of them still under copyright. Google negotiated a $125 million settlement last year with American authors and publishers, and it trying to avoid potential copyright infringement in Europe by only books scanning books over 150 years old. The European Commission said in October 2009 that it might change copyright law to make it easier for companies such as Google to scan books and distribute copies over the Internet.

In China, the China Written Works Copyright Society (a government-affiliated group) is taking on Google and negotiating compensation for Chinese authors whose work is scanned into its library. Mian Mian however, doesn have any connection to the Chinese writers' group. Commenting on Mian Mian's lawsuit, the group called on Chinese writers to band together to negotiate terms with Google instead of suing. It said it is due to hold settlement talks with the company in January. According to the group, Google has scanned more than 80,000 works by Chinese authors into the library.

It will be interesting to see how the Google’s Chinese troubles will pan out….

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