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Chinese authors sue Apple’s iBooks for piracy

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When one sees the terms “copyright infringement” and “China,” the most common assumption is that any piracy is being committed by Chinese firms in violation of others’ copyrights. Not so, in this case: as reported by the Chinese financial newspaper Caixin, a group of prominent Chinese authors has filed a formal suit against Apple, claiming the company’s iBooks electronic book store is distributing their works without permission. The suit seeks 11.91 million yuan (about US$1.9 million) in compensation for infringement on some 37 works.

The suit has been filed by the China Written Works Copyright Society and names nine authors, including prominent writers Murong Xuecun, Li Chengpeng, and Cang Yue, as well as controversial blogger Han Han. According to Reuters, the CWWCS has been trying to work with Apple for months to get the unauthorized titles removed from iBooks, but hasn’t been successful.

Apple isn’t producing the allegedly pirated material itself; rather, it is allegedly offering the content for sale via distributors on its iBooks service. As with other App Store offerings, Apple keeps 30 percent of all ebook sales through iBooks, forwarding 70 percent of the revenue on to the ebooks’ publisher—that means, if the authors’ allegations are true, Apple is directly earning money off the distribution of pirated works. Apple’s terms of service and publishers’ agreements prohibit unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, so Apple would be within its rights to remove the material from iBooks if the allegations can be confirmed.

The CWWCS has also launched high-profile infringement battles against both Google and China’s own Baidu search engine. In March of last year, Baidu claimed to have removed almost three million pirated items from its service—part of Baidu’s new stance on copyright enforcement that got the firm removed from the U.S.’s “notorious markets” list. However, although many note most of the same pirated works have subsequently re-appeared on Baidu. In 2009, the CWWCS also went after Google Books, getting a formal apology from Google in January 2010 for allegedly carrying nearly 18,000 unauthorized works from 579 Chinese authors.