Top: Copies of The Note of Ghoul line the shelves of the Beijing Books Building on Sunday.
Bottom: An iPad screen displays a pirate version of The Note of Ghoul downloaded for free from the Apple App Store. Luo Xiaoguang / Xinhua
Chinese writers are targeting Apple's App Store, saying it is infringing on their copyrights by offering pirated e-book versions of their work.
A senior official of the China Written Works Copyright Society said on Monday that the organization "will do all it can" to support 22 writers' lawsuits accusing Apple of copyright infringement and demanding more than 23 million yuan ($3.6 million) in compensation.
"We have a strong team searching Apple applications that contain unauthorized book copies so we can get a general picture of the scale of the infringement," said Zhang Hongbo, deputy director-general of the organization.
"But it's just too many to count completely."
Zhang said his organizations of more than 500 writers will collect evidence of Apple's infringement on its members' copyrights and that it may disclose the information to the public and for administrative and legal authorities' action at appropriate time.
Apple's App Store provides paid and free software, including text and audio books, uploaded by third-party developers.
Insiders said all developers sign contracts with the company, which screens the contents of the applications and sells them, keeping 30 percent of the sales revenue. But there is no transparency in the amount of times an item has been downloaded.
A senior official of the National Copyright Administration said on Saturday that the App Store is suspected of copyright infringement, but final judgment should be withheld until such time as the claim has been verified by authorities.
Amy Cheung, a Hong Kong novelist, told fans on her blog this week that she never authorized any electronic copy of her books. Any applications (in her name) that are provided for free or for a price are fakes, which contain typos, and that makes her "sad".
A group of writers established the Chinese Writers' Alliance last year to collectively file a lawsuit against the "powerful" tech giant in Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court, according to Wang Guohua, a lawyer representing the alliance.
The list of plaintiffs includes famous writer and blogger Han Han, and writers of best-selling books Stories of the Ming Dynasty and The Note of Ghoul.
Wang said the alliance's lawyers had written Apple three times since July demanding it remove a large quantity of pirated books from its App Store - but the infringements crop up constantly.
A book search by a China Daily reporter found results of Stories of the Ming Dynasty, by Dangnian Mingyue, and Han Han's book Youth on the App Store on Monday - the developers of those applications have no connection with the writers or publishers.
"We had negotiations with Apple before. It said the Chinese subsidiary is not empowered to handle the issue, which must be handled by the Cupertino (California) headquarters," Wang said.
Wang added that Apple has the obligation to check whether the contents are pirated and would have no difficulty technically in removing fraudulent books.
Andy Yang, executive partner and an intellectual-property lawyer with Wis & Weals Law Firm, said Apple's server must have saved copies of the pirated editions for others to download and the App Store is suspected of being a co-infringer by providing opportunity for piracy.
Yang added that even offering pirated applications free of charge can be considered infringement so long as the offer has a commercial goal.
Zhang said the cost of copyright infringement in China is very low and Apple would have weighed the gains and losses.
"We are not trying to expel Apple from China," Zhang said. "We hope it can fundamentally change its operation model that neglects copyright protection."
"We are open to negotiation with Apple to work out a model that distributes books rightfully and shares revenue with writers reasonably."
In a letter to the media on the issue, Apple said "as an intellectual property holder ourselves, we understand the importance of protecting intellectual property and when we receive complaints we respond promptly and appropriately".