12 Chinese authors file suit against Apple

A group of Chinese writers charge that Apple is selling unlicensed copies of their works.

Chinese author and race car driver Han Han is one of the 12 authors who has filed a suit charging Apple with piracy.

The tables have turned, or so it seems.

A group of Chinese writers are accusing Apple of selling pirated copies of their books in its online store and seeking $3.5 million in compensation from the technology giant.

As the AP reported, “The case is a departure from the usual pattern of US artists or companies going after Chinese copycats.” 

In a classic journalistic case of “man bites dog,” a group of some 12 Chinese writers, including renowned author and race car driver Han Han, has filed three separate suits against Apple, claiming its App Store has been selling unlicensed copies of some 59 of their works, Wang Guoha, a lawyer representing the authors, told the AP.

In all, 23 writers have logged complaints with Guoha, claiming Apple sold 95 of their works without permission. There are conflicting claims about the remaining authors. Not all have filed suit yet, though the official Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday that the writers were collectively seeking 50 million yuan ($7.7 million) in compensation from Apple (which Guoha could not confirm).

According to Guoha, the works were made available on the App Store without the writers’ knowledge or permission, thereby violating their copyright. After the suit was first filed in January, Apple deleted some of the books from its store, but the works quickly reappeared in the Apple Store.

“Some developers, with whom Apple has contracts, put them back online again," Guoha, of the United Zhongwen Law Firm, told the AP. “It is encouragement in disguise, because they did not punish the developers. The developers could have been kicked out. But nothing happened to them.”

Apple offered the following statement to the BBC: "As an IP holder ourselves, we understand the importance of protecting intellectual property. When we receive complaints, we respond promptly and appropriately," Apple's China-based spokesperson Carolyn Wu said.

Ironic as the situation may seem to American observers used to hearing about pirated American DVDs and designer goods in China, it’s not the first time the Chinese government has accused an American company of copyright infringement. In 2009, it claimed Google had scanned some 20,000 works by 570 Chinese authors without permission as part of its digital library project. Google later apologized.

What’s more, this isn’t the first of Apple’s troubles in China. Besides its negative publicity of Foxconn factory abuses, it is also embroiled in a battle over the iPad trademark. Chinese computer monitor and LED light maker Proview Electronics Co. says it registered the trademark more than a decade ago and wants Apple to stop selling the iPad tablet under that name. For its part, Apple says Proview sold worldwide rights to the trademark in 2009, though the registration was never transferred in China.

China may be a lucrative market for Apple, but it looks like it won’t be an easy entry.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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