For a number of years now the Technical University of Darmstadt has been digitizing the textbooks and reference books in their library, and offering up digital copies to students. The university had limited the digital copies to the same number of copies as the print collection, and believed that their actions were covered by the an exception under the EU copyright directive.
A German publisher by the name of Eugen Ulmer KG disagreed, and sued the university for copyright infringement when it declined to buy a license for the digital copies in its collection.
This case was heard in German courts before finally ending up in the German Federal Court of Justice, which bumped it up to the ECJ so that higher court could provide a much-needed clarification of the scope of the relevant exception to EU copyright law (2001/29/EC), which allows publicly accessible libraries to make works available to users via dedicated terminals.
The European Court of Justice found in favor of the university. From IP Watch:
The ECJ held that even if a rights owner offers a library a licence agreement for use of the work on appropriate terms, the library may take advantage of the exception, since it otherwise could not fulfill its core mission of promoting research and private study. The directive doesn’t bar governments from giving libraries the right to digitise books, and, if necessary, from making the material available on dedicated computers, the court said.
But the right of communication which public libraries may hold doesn’t allow people to print out the works on paper or store them on USB sticks, because those are acts of reproduction which aim to create a new copy of the digital copy, the court said. Nevertheless, it added, member states may provide an exception or limitation that allows library users to print the works or store them on a USB stick, so long as compensation is paid to the rightsholder.
This ruling closely resembles the 2012 ruling in favor of the HaithiTrust here in the US. That case ended in summary judgement for the HaithiTrust, a coalition of university libraries, when Judge Denny Chin ruled that the book scanning project undertaken by the universities was covered by the fair use exception to US copyright law.
image by KeithBurtis