Novelist threatens Apple with US lawsuit

The author of the novel behind Flowers of War, a Chinese box office hit film starring Christian Bale, is threatening to take legal action against Apple in a Californian court over alleged online piracy.

Geling Yan, a Chinese-American novelist, has given the technology company until January 27 to remove offerings of several of her books from its Chinese app store that Ms Yan and her husband say are unlicensed.

The dispute is the latest in a series of troubles for Apple in the Chinese market.

On January 16, Lawrence Walker, Ms Yan’s husband, complained to Apple’s App Store via email that five applications offered in the store contained works by Ms Yan which the couple says are copyrighted in the US and licensed for ebook sales in China only to Shanda, the Nasdaq-listed Chinese online entertainment group.

One of the apps offered nine of Ms Yan’s works for just 99c, and another offered Jin Ling 13 Cha, the novel upon which Flowers of War is based, for free.

China had set its hopes on bagging an Oscar for the film, directed by the celebrated Zhang Yimou and the first domestically-funded movie with a Hollywood star in the lead role. The tale about an American mortician who rescues a group of Chinese schoolgirls from Japanese troops during Japan’s invasion of China already ranks among the highest-grossing in China and opens in US theatres today. But many critics have dismissed it as propagandistic.

Ms Yan said she expected “substantial losses” from the pirated ebooks as the film would fuel sales of her book.

In response to Mr Walker’s complaint to Apple, someone identifying herself only as “Jenny” sent him names and internal ID numbers of what she said were the developers of the respective apps, and said the company had contacted the developers.

The same day, Mr Walker received an email from what he concluded might be one of the developers, saying “hi, i am very sorry about your copy your wife’s book, this app create by my friend, i don’t know it very much”, it said, adding “hope your can pardon me, i never do it again”. The app offering nine of Ms Yan’s works has since been taken down.

However, Ms Yan and Mr Walker have not heard from Apple again. Ms Yan is now looking for a lawyer to take up her case.

“Please do not think that this problem is restricted to China alone,” Mr Walker wrote in one email to Apple. “Geling Yan is a United States citizen, a legal resident of California, and I have personally copyrighted each and every one of these works in Geling’s name with the Register of Copyrights. If we were to bring legal action against Apple, we would have to do so in US courts and in California.”

Last week, a Beijing court accepted a Chinese writers’ groups’ suit against the US company for allegedly offering pirated literary works in its Chinese online store. Just days later, the company halted sales of all of its iPhone models in its own stores in China after its latest product launch triggered a riot among touts in Beijing. Apple is also battling the China affiliate of ProView, a Taiwanese-owned company, over the iPad trademark in China.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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