Suit latest chapter in e-book rights saga

08:51, August 18, 2010      

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Confusion over ownership rights and lack of content plague the new sector

A recent lawsuit over digital use of books has highlighted the many problems facing writers, publishing houses and new media outlets in China.

Zhonghua Book Co is suing Hanwang Technology Co Ltd claiming pre-installation of ancient books in e-readers violates its copyrights.

Zhonghua's lawsuit, filed in Haidian district court in Beijing, centers around revised editions of the Twenty-Four Histories and the History of the Qing Dynasty.

Hanwang responded that it "feels wronged" by the suit because it already paid 400,000 yuan in royalties to Beijing Guoxue Times Culture Co Ltd, the largest company in China specializing in digitized ancient books and documents.

The case shows the confused situation for digital copyrights in the Chinese e-reader market.

DisplaySearch, a US market analysis firm, recently estimated that China will have 3 million e-readers this year, about 20 percent of the global total, Xinhua.com reported.

Enormous potential profits in the rising industry are encouraging many traditional publication houses to launch their own e-readers.

But "a common obstacle for domestic e-reader makers is a shortage of content caused by a bottleneck in digital copyrights", China Intellectual Property Magazine quoted Zhang Hongbo, deputy director general of China Written Works Copyright Society (CWWCS), as saying.

"The manufacturers try to get authorized books through varied channels, but even those bought from special digital libraries may cause trouble," Zhang said.

A digital copyright is a complex concept involving diverse rights, said Liu Chengyong, general manager of Digital Media Co Ltd. To be used legally, an e-book requires permission for rights of reproduction and network transmission.

The rights involved vary with different kinds of digital media, Liu noted

With such multiple uses possible, it is a challenge for publishing houses and writers to sign a fair contract for digital use, China Intellectual Property Newspaper remarked.

Adding to the chaos is China's difficulty in enforcing copyrights as shown by the surfeit of Internet piracy. And even writers themselves need greater awareness about copyrights.

"I have no idea about digital copyrights and don't know whether I have authorized them to the publishing houses in formal contracts. After all, I don't get any profit from it, " said the famous writer Yi Zhongtian at a forum.

After authorizing their works for use but not being paid, increasing numbers of writers are refusing to transfer their digital copyrights or limiting authorization to publishers for resort to a short-term use only.

A CWWCS investigation of more than 100 publishing houses nationwide in 2009 showed that publishers had digital copyrights for at most 20 percent of their publications and some had only 10 percent.

Zhang said a joint effort should be made as soon as possible to promote healthy development of the Chinese e-reader industry as well as the overall copyright protection environment.

He said e-reader makers should develop more anti-piracy techniques and writers should increase their knowledge of copyrights to better protect their interests.

Modification of relevant laws and regulations should also be a priority, Zhang remarked.

The Digital Copyright Certification Center- the first domestic professional institution in the field - was established in May to help bring order to the digital publishing market.

Source:China Daily

(Editor:黄蓓蓓)

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