Used eBook Sales Still Blocked in Germany

3293465641_b6c5081e87_m[1]The German consumer rights group VZBV suffered a legal defeat this week in their fight to get readers more rights over their purchases.

For the past few months VZBV has been fighting a legal battle similar to the one which they initiated last year over the sale of used computer games. The Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverbandes has argued that consumers should have the right of resale, but unfortunately two different courts have disagreed.

Earlier this week the VZBV lost an appeal which would have overturned a ruling by a district court in Bielefeld.

Correction: The district court did not specifically rule that reselling ebooks was illegal, but that a seller can block the resale by making the buyer agree to give up that right (whether the resale of ebooks is illegal is still an unanswered question). As you might recall from the Usedsoft decision, in the EU sellers cannot force buyers to give up their right to resell software.

The higher regional court at Hamm upheld the district court’s ruling, effectively ending the VZBV’s legal battles – for the moment.

14083879693_47792ed92a_b[1]While this issue has been settled under German law, there is still some question as to whether it will remain settled under EU law.

As you might recall, there is an ongoing lawsuit in the Netherlands over a website called Tom Kabinet. That site is a marketplace where users can resell their DRM-free ebooks, and it was sued in late June 2014 by a Dutch publisher’s association.

The Nederlandse Uitgeversverbond (NUV) argued that Tom Kabinet was nothing less than copyright infringement under EU law. They are probably correct, but so far as I know they have not yet secured a ruling in their favor.

While you may have read that stories which claimed used ebook sales were legal in the Netherlands, that is not an accurate description. I can’t see that the case has been decided either way, but I do know that the judge had declined to shut down Tom Kabinet while the parties fought in court.

Used ebook sales aren’t necessarily legal yet in the Netherlands, but there is a chance that they could be. And that leaves open the possibility that used ebook sales could become legal in the European Union.

If the Dutch judge rules in favor of Tom Kabinet, then both this case and the one from Germany will have to be appealed upwards to an EU court. That court will have to decide which ruling is valid, and overturn the other.

It’s far too early to guess which way that EU court will rule, so I wouldn’t hold your breath in anticipation (I wasn’t looking forward to giving you mouth to mouth, anyway). But I do think this could prove to be one of the more interesting legal cases of 2015 or 2016.

images by aussiegall steakpinball

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. jbh28 August, 2014

    Selling used ebooks in Germany is not illegal per se. The ruling only says that sellers can prohibit their customers to do it. And this detail must be part of the contract. At the moment, it seems, sellers exclude further sale in their terms of sale. The court has explicitly not decided though, whether it suffices to mention the restrriction somewhere in that terms of sale to make it part of the contract. If some detail in general terms of sale is surprising toi customers, it may not necessarily become part of the purchasing contract. It is up to a separate legal dispute to decide, whether or not the resale restriction can be considered a surprising fact (in which case sellers would have to point out that detail more prominently to the customer than merely mentioning it in their general terms of sale). Arguably, users might find the analogy to used software plausible, the resale of which cannot be prohibited by any sales terms in Germany. The current court ruling found, that different legal regulations govern the sales of ebooks and software though, and therefore, sellers can legally prohibit ebook resale. Arguably, some sentence in the general terms of sale might indeed not suffice to make the rather weird restriction part of the contract.

    1. Nate Hoffelder28 August, 2014

      Thanks for the clarification!

  2. Roland28 August, 2014

    Just a little correction:
    The abreviation is VZBV as in _V_erbraucher_z_entrale _B_undes_v_erband.
    Not VZBZ…
    See also this german link:

    1. Nate Hoffelder28 August, 2014

      ixed it, thanks.

  3. […] now there are German court rulings which contradict the Dutch court ruling that allows Tom Kabinet to continue operating. This gives the site's […]

  4. […] stays unresolved: is it authorised for consumers to resell e-books during all? German courts have suggested a use should be stopped, while Dutch courts consider it’s kosher. But as they’re traffic with a same EU law, […]

  5. […] stays unresolved: is it authorised for consumers to resell e-books during all? German courts have suggested a use should be stopped, while Dutch courts consider it’s kosher. But as they’re traffic with a same EU law, […]

  6. […] still remains unresolved: is it legal for consumers to resell e-books at all? German courts have suggested the practice should be stopped, while Dutch courts think it’s kosher. But as they’re dealing with the same EU law, […]


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