Books may be Digitised without Author’s Permission

Author: Erikas Saukalas, Associated Partner, Attorney-at-Law, Head of the International Relations Division at METIDA

imagesPublic libraries can digitise books and distribute them to reading terminals. However, the number of digitised books cannot exceed the number of that books the libraries have purchased in print.

The ruling was issued by the European Court of Justice as a result of the case Technische Universitat Darmstadt vs Eugen Ulmer kg decided on 11 September, 2014. The decision explains what libraries can do with their books under the European Union’s Copyright Directive.

The Defendant Technische Universitat Darmstadt (TU Darmstadt) owns a regional and academic library where they installed electronic reading terminals allowing the public to acquaint with the works of the library’s collection. One of the textbooks has been digitised and made available to the users without author’s permission. The book could be accessed at the same time only in a number of times no greater than the number of the owned copies in print. Reading terminal users were allowed to print out the work or save it on a USB stick both, in part or in full, and in this way take it from the library.

Under the Copyright and Related Rights Directive, Member States should be given the option for certain limitations or exceptions for the benefit of public institutions, such as libraries or archives, and in light of education and scientific purposes. For example, for the news, quotation, disabled users, public safety, administration and court purposes. In addition, Member States are able to provide limitations or exceptions for the benefit of public libraries or equivalent institutions, as well as archives. Hence, this Directive is expected to foster scientific research and private studies that spread knowledge for the benefit of the public interest. In fact, this is what is considered as the main function of the institutions like public libraries.

 The European Court of Justice has decided that the public libraries and other institutions mentioned above have the right to make the works from their collection accessible to all the public users who go to their reading terminals for the purposes of the scientific research or private studies. Yet, within the limits of the conditions, this right may become meaningless or ineffective without an ancillary right to digitise the works in question.

Thus, although authors make the libraries special offers to purchase books in electronic formats, libraries themselves can digitise the works of their collection and make them available to the readers. However, under the court’s ruling, libraries can only grant readers with the access, but cannot allow them print out the works or save them on the USB memory sticks. Nonetheless, the court gave the Member States an option to give libraries an exception to allow their users to print or save the works, if the author of the work is compensated appropriately.

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