The Court of Justice of the European Union has just issued a judgment that European libraries can digitize books in their collections without the copyright-holder’s consent – so long as this is done for dedicated reading points within the library. This follows the case “Technische Universität Darmstadt v. Eugen Ulmer KG,” where a German university library started digitizing works from publisher Eugen Ulmer KG for reading onsite, also giving partial copying access. After Eugen Ulmer started a case against the university, which had not taken up its offer of a license or purchase ebook copies of the work, the German Federal Court of Justice referred the case to the CJEU, which has now issued its ruling.
As the judgment explains: “TU Darmstadt digitised that textbook so as to make it available to users on electronic reading points installed in its library. Those points did not allow for a greater number of copies of that work to be consulted at any one time than the number owned by the library. Users of the reading points could print out the work on paper or store it on a USB stick, in part or in full, and take it out of the library in that form.”
The key ruling concerns the exceptions granted to EU copyright law in certain cases, specifically that: “Member States should be given the option of providing for certain exceptions or limitations for cases such as educational and scientific purposes, for the benefit of public institutions such as libraries and archives, for purposes of news reporting, for quotations, for use by people with disabilities, for public security uses and for uses in administrative and judicial proceedings.” That said, the ruling does confirm that libraries cannot allow users to make USB or printed copies of works in their collections without licensing from the copyright-holder, but they are now explicitly allowed to digitize the works in their holdings. The ruling also confirms the importance of public interest in deciding the applicability of EU copyright law, in the face of media industry pressure.