SHANGHAI — Search engine powerhouse Google is facing new complaints over its book-scanning digital library project — from Chinese authors who say their copyrights are being violated.
The objections raised by a government-affiliated group called the China Written Works Copyright Society are the latest in the conflict between Google and copyright holders in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere over its ambitious effort to make more printed works available to a wider audience online.
They are the first public criticism of the project from China — a country usually under fire for its own problems with rampant piracy of copyright-protected material and other intellectual property.
Google has made digital copies of 10 million books in the past five years, generally through deals with large libraries to scan and index their collections. Google says the project is an invaluable chance for books to get more exposure.
Apart from public-domain works, Google typically can let Internet users see only snippets from them because of copyright restrictions. But many authors and publishers argue that the very act of scanning violates their copyrights.
Zhang Hongbo, deputy director of the Chinese group, which represents writers' groups but is under the supervision of the national copyrights bureau, says his group found nearly 18,000 works by 570 Chinese authors had been scanned as of Sept. 1.
"Google's digital library scanned those copyright-protected works without permission. This violates American copyright laws and international treaties," Zhang told The Associated Press.
"This also violates the basic principle that they should ask permission from the authors first, pay to use them and then use them," he said.
Zhang's group, based in Beijing, has posted a notice on its Web site urging authors to check to see if their books are listed among works included in a tentative legal settlement between Google and U.S. authors and publishers.
"We hope many authors will bravely stand up and adamantly defend their legal rights," the group said. It was set up a year ago to represent Chinese authors facing widespread infringements of copyrights in their home market, as do foreign authors, movie and music makers.
Worries over EU copyright have held back Google's efforts to scan books in European libraries. Unlike in the U.S., Google is only scanning European books over 150 years of age to avoid infringing copyrighted material.
European books within EU copyright will only be added if copyright holders agree, the company says. If there are U.S. editions of the same works, they would be covered by U.S. copyright — and likely also by the Google settlement deal.
Earlier this week, the European Commission said it may revise copyright law to facilitate scanning and distribution of printed books over the Internet — and make it easier to compensate copyright holders.
The proposed settlement between Mountain View, California-based Google and U.S. authors and publishers applies only to the United States, Google said in an e-mailed statement.
"Of course, we listen carefully to all concerns and will work hard to address them," Google said. "We are actively encouraging authors, publishers, and rightsholders around the world to register for the settlement."
Copyright holders can opt out of the project if they choose to do so, Google says.
"Control over the works remains firmly in the hands of the rightsholders — they can leave their works in the program and decide on all the toggles for access, or even pull their books out," the Google statement said.
Parties involved in the Google settlement are revising the agreement to meet Justice Department concerns over antitrust issues, with a U.S. court due to rule on its validity early next month.
Google should acknowledge its alleged infringement of Chinese authors' copyrights and negotiate fair compensation for the writers, Zhang said.
Chen Cun, a novelist based in Shanghai, said he found material from 38 of his works in Google's digital library, including 12 novels and three other books.
"Google never bothered to notify me or Chinese authorities. They should have let me know my works would be put online," Chen said.
"We need to sit down and discuss this. How much I should be paid should come from discussions between Chinese authors and Google, not just an online announcement," he said.
China says it is working hard to improve enforcement of its own stringent laws protecting copyrights and patents. But implementation at the local level is haphazard at best — peddlers hawk pirated U.S. best-sellers openly on Shanghai streets and in subway stations.
But piracy here does not justify violating rights elsewhere, said Ge Xianrong, dean of the library at Shanghai's prestigious Fudan University.
"No doubt Google is wrong, and I think the government should do more to fight against all kinds of piracy," Ge said. "It's crucial to defend copyrights and get people to stop buying pirated works."