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Comment: Google, Don't be Evil?

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"Don't be evil" is the motto of Google. It is respectable for a commercial company to hold such a value.

But Google's recent "mega-show" has given me a further understanding of its motto. "Don't be evil" is definitely good, but what is good, and what is evil? This is in essence a value judgment and has in many ways to do with standpoints and interests.

Google has defied the Chinese government. The western media also showed an overwelmingly one-sided point of view on this. Some commentators have hailed Google as a "do-no-evil" model. Unfortunately, however, I am not smart enough to understand that.

Google got ants in pants with copyright disputes

Several months ago, I received an e-mail transferred by the Singapore Association of Writers, informing me about the situation where the Chinese Writers Association (CWA) had accused Google of copyright infringement. As a member of the Singapore Association of Writers and also founder of an original Chinese literature website on the Chinese mainland, the message attracted my attention.

To create the largest digital library online in the world, Google scanned a huge number of books and made them available for search on its website. Thousands of Chinese books were included among them, but all were pirated without authorization from their authors. A group of Chinese authors thus accused Google of copyright violations and defended their copyrights together through the CWA and the China Written Works Copyright Society (CWWCS).

After negotiations and a long waiting period, the CWA issued a public ultimatum to Google last November. It urged Google to offer a list of works by Chinese writers which had already been scanned, and deliver within a month a proposal for resolving the dispute and paying compensation.

Meanwhile, Chinese writer Mian Mian accused Google of copyright infringement and filed a lawsuit against it in Beijing at the end of last year. Mian Mian became the first individual Chinese author who accused Google of copyright infringement. She demanded that Google apologize for scanning her novel "Hydrochloric Acid Lover" without permission and pay her 61,000 yuan (US$8,900) in compensation.

Some commentators believe that compared to CWA's "group fight", Mian Mian's "individual fight" was even worse for Google. The CWA only represents 2,600 writers whose 8,000 books were scanned, while a great number of non-members whose works Google used without permission were not represented. If one percent of these writers do as what Mian Mian did, then Google would do nothing but deal with these copyright cases in the following years in China.

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