The Beijing No 2 Intermediate People's Court ruled on Tuesday that Apple had to pay 3 Chinese writers 730,000 yuan (about $118,000) for illegally selling their copyrighted work. These lawsuits were brought by the Writers' Right Protection Union, a group that has been supporting writers in their efforts to fight online piracy.
Unlike the USA and in other parts of the world, China doesn't have a 3rd party liability shield for ISPs. In the US these cases would likely have been dismissed under the DMCA, but not in China.
In that country the vendor is held liable for the actions of users. The judge presiding over these cases has made it clear that under Chinese law Apple has the duty to verify the legal status of the books uploaded by third parties, though he doesn't seem to grasp the scale at which Apple and other tech companies operate.
"The writers involved this time include Mai Jia, whose books are often on best-seller lists across the country," Judge Feng Gang said. "In this way, Apple has the capability to know the uploaded books on its online store violated the writer's copyright."
That's all well and good for the judge to proclaim, but as we have learned with copyright infringement lawsuits in the US trying to decide what is legal and not is not a simple process.
Verifying that the uploader has the right to sell the content can be difficult. That is clear to everyone (except lawyers) including tech experts in China.
The article quotes Yang Shuo, a specialist with a decade of experience in cybermanagement as saying that it wasn't possible to build a verification system that could check the content automatically; people were going to have to get in the loop. Unfortunately that adds cost that some companies won't want to spend: "The verification must rely on human power, but some small companies won't spend money and time to employ people to do such work," he said. "So such disputes will be hard to avoid in the future."
This is the third copyright infringement lawsuit that Apple has lost in China in recent months. A verdict was handed down in a similar lawsuit back in December 2012, and Apple also lost an earlier lawsuit in September 2012. Those lawsuits cost Apple 1,000,000 yuan (about $162,000 USD) and 520,000 yuan (about $84,000 USD), respectively.
That's not a lot of money in absolute terms, but I'm sure the loss is still galling for Apple.