Monday, January 11, 2010

GBBR: Right On Chinese Authors

So when is it right to apologise to one group of people but not apologise to another when you have done exactly the same thing to both? The question is simple but some would suggest that the answer is far from simple in Googleworld. Some would say that Google are acting with double standards when they issue a public apology to Chinese writers and also admit that it scanned books under Chinese copyright for its Google Books digital library project but do little elsewhere.

Far from admitting any guilt or offering an apology Google in the West fought hard to defend themselves. AFP . Perhaps they believe that China is different, no doubt they will say it’s a special case, that their laws are different, but was it the law, political pressure or the simple dollar that bought them to their knees and forced them to issue an apology as reported by AFP. Some would look at the bigger picture with Googleworld trying to penetrate the Chinese market on many fronts.

Erik Hartmann, their Asia-Pacific head of Google Books posted the apology on the website of the Chinese Writers Association, ‘Through the discussions and communications of recent months, it is our understanding that our communications with Chinese writers have not been good enough. Google is willing to apologise to Chinese authors.’

The Chinese certainly have mystic powers over Google and Hartmann also appeared on their state television and acknowledged the practice of scanning books had angered Chinese writers. The China Written Works Copyright Society is reportedly now in talks with Google to resolve issues and agree terms for compensation. Google has undertaken not to scan no more books without authorisation from Chinese writers and wishes to resolve the dispute by March.

So why didn’t it stop its scanning elsewhere?

So why didn’t Google apologise to the, US, UK, European authors and publishers?

Perhaps its easier here to go into a closed room and cut a deal, then revisit it when its found wanting, then rope in the soft siblings such as the UK, Canada, Australia and leave out those such as France, Germany and others who may prove more united.
Some would suggest that the reality is probably somewhere hidden in the murky deal rooms with those who were not strong enough to negotiate and stand up to Google and merely make gestures and capitulated.

Meanwhile it appears that more US authors are standing up and behind the recent lead of Ursula K Le Guin who accused the Authors Guild of a "deal with the devil" and resigned her membership. The Presidents of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the National Writers Union and the American Society of Journalists and Authors all yesterday issued a joint letter to more than 60 authors in Congress urging them to protest against the Google books settlement.

Their letter states, ‘There are millions of book authors in this country who could be locked into an agreement they don’t understand and didn’t ask for. The Authors Guild represents only a tiny fraction of published writers, yet the new regulatory board set up in the proposed settlement will override individual book contracts – not to mention common law and even the Constitutional.’

They go on to nail the issue of orphan rights, ‘No matter how much they amend it, the fundamental problem at the heart of the settlement --unilaterally giving all digital rights to orphan works to Google --- remains. Legislation is needed to deal with orphan works fairly. Simply allowing Google to profit from these works without any attempt to find the rights holders makes a mockery of copyright.’

It should shame us that China is showing the Western world and in particular the US how to deal with basic rights.

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