European Court of Justice allows digitisation of library books

Reading on dedicated terminals okay, but if you print you pay

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The Fourth Chamber of the European Court of Justice has ruled that libraries can scan books, even if publishers deny them permission to do so, but that subsequent reading can only take place on “dedicated terminals”.

The ruling came in the case of Technische Universität Darmstadt v Eugen Ulmer KG, decided on Thursday.

The facts of the case are as follows: In 2009, Technische Universität Darmstadt held works published by Eugen Ulmer KG. The Universität refused the publisher's offer to buy eBook editions of the works in question and instead digitised it and made it available on “electronic reading points”.

“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,” the case states, however “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 court's explanation (PDF) of the decision says its interpretation of European Union's Copyright Directive “does not prevent Member States from granting libraries the right to digitise the books from their collections, if it becomes necessary, for the purpose of research or private study, to make those works available to individuals by dedicated terminals.”

The decision is, however, far from a comprehensive victory, as the Court also ruled that printing a work or copying it to USB is a new copy and must be paid for. The reasoning is that dedicated reading terminals are nicely contained, but that letting works beyond the library's doors is another matter entirely.

There's also the matter of licensing terms, which on The Reg's reading of the case look important because Eugen Ulmer KG tried to sell the Universität two things: a dead tree and an electronic edition, with no licence to turn the former into the latter. The judgement states that a library and publisher must henceforth be considered to “have concluded a licensing agreement in respect of the work in question that sets out the conditions in which that establishment may use that work.” If publishers sell printed books under a licence preventing scanning, the prospect of dedicated terminals goes away.

Then there's the fact that the decision gives member states the option to allow scanning and terminal reading, which is hardly a call for libraries to warm up their scanners. There's also plenty of mentions that the ruling applies to “research or private study”, which doesn't sound like an invitation for libraries to digitise the latest James Ellroy so you can read it on a chained fondleslab. ®


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