March 20, 2012

Chinese authors level lawsuit against Apple


It’s a bit of a reversal of the normal flow of piracy, but you can now add a group of Chinese authors to the list of current litigators suing Apple, Inc.  It seems Apple has “accidentally” listed and sold several Chinese authors’ works within their iTunes store. The following selection is from the AP coverage of the story:

The case is a departure from the usual pattern of U.S artists or companies going after Chinese copycats. Trade groups say illegal Chinese copying of music, designer clothing and other goods costs legitimate producers billions of dollars a year in lost sales.

Three separate lawsuits have been filed with the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate Court on behalf of 12 writers who allege 59 of their titles were sold unlicensed through Apple’s iTunes online store, said Wang Guohua, a Beijing lawyer representing the writers.

So what kind of money are we talking about? Try $7.7 million, which, although being a relatively high number, is peanuts for Apple. The lawsuit is not the only one Apple is fighting with China, nor is it the first time Chinese authors have taken issue with a large multinational company stealing their work. Again, from the AP story:

Product piracy is a major irritant in China-US relations, but usually involves complaints that Chinese are copying American products.

However, it’s not the first time Chinese have cried foul over copyright infringement by an American company either. In 2009, the government-affiliated China Written Works Copyright Society complained that Google had scanned nearly 20,000 works by 570 Chinese authors without permission as part of its digital library project, drawing an apology from Google.

For Apple, the latest case is just one of several legal battles being fought in China. The company is embroiled in a battle over the iPad trademark with Proview Electronics Co., a Chinese computer monitor and LED light maker that says it registered the trademark more than a decade ago.

On the surface, Apple’s use of copyrighted material seems to be an error on both their and the distributor’s part. Many publishers went through something similar when Google’s eBookstore (now Google Play, formerly Google Editions) launched in early 2010. This of course does not lesson the concern.

In the meantime it certainly appears that the ease with which eBooks are distributed has its downside.


Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.