Update: Google Jan. 9 said it was sorry to the Chinese Writers Association for not communicating properly with Chinese authors and vowed to "respect the wishes of any Chinese author who hasn't authorized their books to be scanned."
Bloomberg cited the apology in a letter from Asia's Google Books Chief Erik Hartmann to the writers' group. A Google spokesperson relayed the apology to eWEEK in a phone interview:
"Due to different starting notions and different understandings of copyright laws in China and the U.S., our behavior has caused discontent among Chinese writers. Our communication with Chinese authors has not been good enough. We are willing to apologize to Chinese authors for this behavior."
Google also agreed to hand over a list of work by Chinese authors that it has scanned into Google Books, and said it is working to create a new agreement with authors in the second quarter of this year. However, the spokesperson said Google did not promise to stop scanning books in China, adding:
"We believe Google Books complies with U.S. and Chinese copyright law. Any author that wishes to exclude their books may do so. 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 rightsholder."
The writers' association, essentially the Chinese counterpart to the U.S. Author's Guild that along with the Association of American Publishers sued Google in 2005 for scanning copyrighted books, argued that Google should stop indexing authors' books without permission and compensate Chinese authors whose works it included without approval.
For example, Bloomberg said Google removed content of Chinese author Mian Mian from its site after it was accused by the writer of copyright infringement, a case wending its way through the Chinese judicial system.
Meanwhile, the China Writers Association declined to comment on Google's apology and pledge until it meets to discuss the matter, said Bloomberg.
However, He Fang, a lawyer at Rouse & Co. International in Shanghai, told Bloomberg Google doesn't want additional litigation over the matter so it can keep its business operations flowing as smoothly as possible in the country.
Indeed, Google has its hands full brokering the Google Book Search agreement in the United States, where the search engine, authors and publishers forged a pact that would let Google scan out-of-print books and license them to readers for fees.
This effort has been met with staunch opposition from rivals Amazon.com and Microsoft, as well as some authors and advocates such as the Open Book Alliance.
These groups fear Google, already the leading search engine with 65 to 70 percent market share in the United States and abroad, will have too much power and control over the digitization of the world's books.
A U.S. District Court judge could decide on the matter Feb. 18, though he will likely do so with the serious consideration of the Department of Justice, which opposed the original deal. Google has since revised the deal with authors and publishers.
Google's issue with the Chinese Writers' Association comes after a French court ordered Google to stop scanning French works, again, for violating copyrights of publishers and authors in that country. Google is appealing the decision.
The standoff with Chinese authors comes as Google is trying to improve its content offerings overseas in China, where it trails Baidu in serving content to the country's 340 million Web users.