EU’s Highest Court Allows Libraries To Digitize Books Without Rightholder’s Permission

Published by Techdirt

EU’s Highest Court Allows Libraries To Digitize Books Without Rightholder’s Permission

from the balancing-the-books dept

Recently, Techdirt has reported on a number of decisions about copyright being handed down by the European Union’s highest court, the EU Court of Justice (EUCJ). Here’s another, this time involving the digitization of books (pdf). The case concerned a university library in Germany that wanted to digitize a book that it had purchased so as to be able to make it available electronically to its visitors. The publishing house tried to sell it an e-book of the work concerned that could be used for this purpose, but the library refused. Because it involved the EU Copyright Directive, the case was referred by the Federal Court of Justice in Germany to the EUCJ, which has now released the following decision:

the Court holds, first of all, that, even if the rightholder offers to a library the possibility of concluding licencing agreements for the use of his works on appropriate terms, the library may avail itself of the exception [permitted by the EU Copyright Directive] provided for in favour of dedicated terminals; otherwise, the library could not realise its core mission or promote the public interest in promoting research and private study.

Furthermore:

the Court finds that the directive does not prevent Member States from granting libraries the right to digitise the books from their collections, if it becomes necessary, for the purpose of research or private study, to make those works available to individuals by dedicated terminals. The right of libraries to communicate, by dedicated terminals, the works they hold in their collections would risk being rendered largely meaningless, or indeed ineffective, if they did not have an ancillary right to digitise the works in question.

In other words, since the EU Copyright Directive permits libraries to be given a right to use dedicated terminals to display works they already own, that would be meaningless if they couldn’t digitize those works first. Although that’s an eminently sane and reasonable result, copyright maximalists will doubtless complain about the erosion of their “rights”, since they seem to take it as axiomatic that every new use of material under copyright should result in a payment to them. Happily, once more the EUCJ seems to be trying to bring a little more balance to this most unbalanced of fields.

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