GBS: Little Trouble in Big China?

There’s more from the Wall Street Journal on the controversy in China. One possibility to explain the recent confusion is that U.S media have may been picking up on somewhat inaccurate reportage in the Chinese media.

Thursday, journalists received an updated statement from the company saying the Chinese books in its library are available only in snippets, unless use of the full texts is approved by rights holders. Yet somehow, state-run newspaper China Daily seems to have taken this to mean Google plans to make a new settlement with Chinese authors. Today’s headline read, “Oodles of woe for Google,” and the lead paragraph says the company “may draw up a new statement to put out its copyright fire in China, according to a statement.”

Is it possible that China Daily got a different statement than other media, or is it merely putting another spin on Google’s comments? In its article, the paper uses quotes that were in Google’s initial, boilerplate statement, which certainly did not seem to imply any new settlement.

Or maybe it’s the Chinese media that’s accurately reporting on the revisions to the settlement and the Wall Street Journal that’s confused? Here is the China Daily story.

The China Daily story suggests that the China Written Works Copyright Society, representing 80 authors will be opting out and denying Google and the BRR any e publishing rights, while Google claims to have permissions from 50 Chinese publishers for 30,000 works, presumably under its partner programs. The Copyright Society wants more compensation and “an apology” from Google, don’t we all, but the concept of “apology” so important in China, doesn’t square with the GBS standard defendant’s “non-admission clause.” Again ignoring the reach of the Berne Convention, the China Daily reports Google’s position: “the scope of the US settlement is limited to the US and comes under US law and only US readers will benefit” leaving out, and only US authors will suffer.Now that authors in China are on record against the GBS, this still leaves the Spanish speaking countries,India, Russia and all of Africa, as not yet heard from.

I think that you have to look at this as a political statement of nationalism. The subtext is “you westerners have been accusing us of copyright infringement all these years, but look what happens when one of your big companies infringes our copyrights!”

Until not so long ago, all intellectual property rights in the PRC were own by the state. I don’t know what the situation is for books, but for journals, the print rights were privatized one way and the electronic rights were given to only 3 companies, each of which has substantial state direction. It would be interesting to find out whether there is any orphan problem at all in the PRC, or whether rights have been dealt out by the state.

Today, AP and others report a bigger Google system wide snafu in China, that People’s Daily asserts is Google blocking China User access in retaliation for published reports of Chinese author dissatisfaction with the GBS.