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Google issues apology to Chinese writers

After a long copyright debate, Google has offered an apology to Chinese authors, admitting that they treated them unfairly. The country’s authors were in an uproar when they discovered that Google had digitized their works without first asking permission.

The Internet giant has agreed to provide a list of scanned books to the China Written Works Copyright Society and will work with the China Writers’ Association to come to an agreement on this issue. The New York Times reports:

We definitely agree that we haven’t done a sufficient job in communicating with Chinese writers, Erik Hartmann, who runs the Asia-Pacific division of Google Books, wrote in a letter to the China Writers’ Association. [¦]

Zhang Hongbo, the secretary general of the China Written Works Copyright Society, which manages Chinese copyrights, hailed the letter and the apology. It is a result that all Chinese copyright holders have been waiting for, he said. We look forward to Google’s deeper understanding of this issue.

According to the Times, last month Shanghai author Mian Mian was the first Chinese writer to take legal action against Google. This is how the company responded:

In China like everywhere else, if a book is in copyright we don’t show more than a few snippets of text without the explicit permission of the rights holder, Courtney Hohne, a Google spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail message. In addition, we have a longstanding policy of honoring authors’ wishes, and authors or publishers who wish to exclude their book may do so at any time.

So far, it seems Google has been following the belief that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. In the meantime, the company has said it plans to reach an agreement with the China Writer’s Association by early summer.