[JURIST] The European Court of Justice (EJC) [official website] ruled [judgement] on Thursday that EU member states may authorize public libraries to digitize works contained in their collections without the consent of the rights holders. The ruling [press release, PDF]comes after the Technical University of Darmstadt [official website, in English] in Germany brought a lawsuit against Eugene Ulmer KG (Ulmer) [official website, in German], a German publishing house. The library had digitized a textbook published by Ulmer and refused its offer to purchase the rights to the book so the library could make it available to its users electronically. The presiding court, the Federal Court of Justice of Germany [official website, in English], asked the EJC to advise it of its options under the EU Copyright Directive [text]. The EJC stated that under the directive, authors have the right to prohibit the reproduction and communication of their works to the public. The court, however, clarified an exception to this right that permits public libraries, for the purpose of research or private study, to make an author’s work electronically accessible to library users at electronic reading points within the libraries. The EJC said that a library would be unable to “reali[z]e its core mission or promote the public interest in promoting research and private study without being able to do this.” However, the court emphasized that printing or electronically transferring an author’s work is an act of reproduction, which, if allowed, would require fair compensation to the rights holder.
Electronic reproduction of written, copyrighted content has also been a highly litigated issue in the US. In 2011 the Author’s Guild [official website] sued [JURIST report] a digital content provider and several universities claiming the defendants engaged in copyright infringement by creating a searchable electronic book database. The case reached the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website], which ruled in June that creating a searchable book database and giving full digital copies of books to disabled people constitutes fair use. In July 2013, the same court overturned [JURIST report] a lower court decision [JURIST report] that had allowed authors challenging Google’s digital books project, which, at the time, had electronically scanned more than 20 million books, many without consent of the author, to sue as a group rather than individually. The Second Circuit remanded the case back to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website], which ultimately dismissed [JURIST report] the class action.