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11 September 2014Copyright

CJEU: libraries may digitise books without right holders’ consent

Europe’s highest court has ruled that member states’ libraries can store digital copies of books without permission from right holders and that users can print or store them on USB sticks for a fee.

The judgment, released today (Thursday) by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), surrounded the alleged unauthorised digitisation of a book by a library at the Darmstadt Technical University, in Germany, for research purposes.

The dispute, between the university and German publishing house Eugen Ulmer KG, had been referred to the CJEU by Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof).

Following a failed attempt to enter into an agreement with the university, Eugen Ulmer filed a copyright infringement lawsuit over the alleged unauthorised scanning of the history book, called Einführung in die neuere Geschichte (Introduction to Modern History) by Winfried Schulze.

The Bundesgerichtshof asked the CJEU whether member states could allow establishments  to digitise the works contained in their collections in order to make them available on library terminals, and whether users could print them on paper or store the works on a USB stick.

The CJEU said that while authors have the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit the reproduction of their works to the public, the directive also allows member states to provide for specific exceptions or limitations.

“This option exists notably for publically accessible libraries which, for the purpose of research or private study, make works from their collections available to users by dedicated terminals,” the CJEU said.

“Even if the right holder offers to a library the possibility of concluding licensing agreements … the library may avail itself of the exception 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.”

The CJEU added that although printing or storing works on a USB constituted reproduction, member states may provide for an exception or limitation provided that fair compensation is paid to the right holders.

The CJEU allows courts of member states to refer questions about the interpretation of EU law.

A final ruling on the case will still need to be decided by the relevant country’s courts.

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