The first copyright violation lawsuit filed against Google by a Chinese author points to twists the road to content digitalization may take in the world's most voluminous – and piracy-riddled – book market.
Though China's adoption of e-books is slow, its 570 licensed print publishers still put out around 200,000 new titles a year on paper (on par with US and UK peers). They sell about 6 billion of them annually, making China the world's No. 1 market by volume, and make about $8 billion in 2007, behind only the US, Germany and Japan, according to the Chinese Institute of Publishing Sciences in Beijing.
Though Mian Mian – the Shanghai writer whose 2000 breakout novel "Candy" dragged readers through a sex-and-drugs-addled underworld – is paid little, like most Chinese authors, she's not suing the California-based Internet giant for the money, her lawyer says.
Instead, she's concerned about Google's attitude toward copyrights and its respect for authors, her attorney Sun Jingwei told the Monitor. "She would consider a settlement as long as Google apologizes" for scanning excerpts her novel "Acid Lover" and loading its Book Search service without permission, Sun said. "Acid Lover," Mian's third novel, is a story of a group of anxious, rebellious youths coming of age in the wild nightlife of big-city modern China.
On Tuesday in a Beijing court, Ms. Mian asked Google for that apology and for 60,000 yuan ($8,800) to cover legal and "emotional" costs, Mr. Sun said. They had not heard back from Google by Thursday.
Google, which did not respond to requests for comment, appears to have pulled "Acid Lover" from its Book Search site, where it has an estimated 80,000 Chinese titles, according to Zhang Hongbo, deputy executive director-general of the China Written Works Copyright Society (CWWCS).
Mian's lawsuit follows close on the heels of an order by a Paris court for Google to pay €300,000 ($432,000) for breach of copyright, and to cease and desist digital distribution of French books online without their publishers' permission.
Mian told The Beijing Times that she suspected Google of trying to get away with posting "Acid Lover" because its Chinese publisher, Shanghai Sanlian Publishing, was not likely to pursue legal action, whereas Little, Brown – which put out her book "Candy" under its New York-based Back Bay fiction imprint in the US – might have.
Google Book Search scanned only the cover of "Candy."
"I just don’t understand Google’s different treatment of different publishers," she told The Beijing Times Dec. 15. "Is it because the American publishing house is so powerful that they dare not offend or is it because they think the Chinese publishing house is easier to bully? I must seek for justice over Google's cultural hegemony."
Publishing industry insiders expect that Google will try to avoid a trial in Beijing court, but even an out-of-court settlement could open a can of worms.
"The concern for Google is going to be the pile-on effect," said Jo Lusby, chief China representative of the Penguin Group, one of the world’s largest publishers. "Chinese authors write in the most pirated market in the world and will take any opportunity for legitimate money for their works."
Zhang of the CWWCS will enter a fourth round of negotiations with Google in January over a potential royalty split agreement for Chinese authors. An agreement could echo the deal Google struck with US authors groups earlier this year.
Wang Ping contributed reporting.