Google scraps meeting over online books

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 January, 2010, 12:00am

Google has pulled out of talks with a government-affiliated writers' group in which the US firm was supposed to produce a complete list of the Chinese books it had scanned for its online library without authorisation.

The withdrawal by the California-based internet giant followed its formal apology over its poor communication with Chinese authors and a promise to work out a settlement with them by March.

Zhang Hongbo, deputy secretary general of China Written Works Copyright Society, said that yesterday morning Google announced it wanted to postpone the talks but did not specify to what date, China News Service reported yesterday.

Zhang said his organisation had asked Google why it had postponed what would have been the fourth round of negotiations.

According to the copyright society, nearly 18,000 books by Chinese authors had been added to Google Books without permission from the authors in a controversial project to digitise books and post them online.

On Sunday, Google formally apologised to Chinese authors about scanning their books into its online library and said it was ready to work out a settlement to allay copyright concerns.

The Chinese Writers' Association (CWA) said it received a letter from Google acknowledging its efforts had upset Chinese authors.

'Following discussions and communications in recent months, we do believe that our communication with Chinese writers has not been good enough,' Google said in the letter posted on the association's website. 'Google is ready to apologise to Chinese writers about this.'

The letter bore the signature of Erik Hartmann, Asia-Pacific head of Google Books.

Google planned to work out a settlement by March and reach a formal agreement by June, the letter said. It said it would take the 'unprecedented move' of producing a complete list of Chinese books it has scanned, in response to a request from the writers' group.

The authenticity of the letter could not be confirmed.

For five years, Google has been working to scan all the world's books into a digital library accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Google describes the project is an invaluable chance for books to get more exposure, but many authors and publishers argue it is a copyright violation.

The project has also raised objections from authors and publishers in the United States, France, Germany and elsewhere.