EU Breaks Ground on Book Digitization Plans
(CN) - Though he found no issue with the digitization of books by EU libraries, a court adviser said Thursday that users should be allowed to make only paper, not computer, copies of works without author permission.
The matter reached the European Court of Justice after a German federal court sought guidance on a dispute between author Eugen Ulmer and the Technical University of Darmstadt. Ulmer seeks to block the university from digitizing his books and making them available to users at reading kiosks.
The university also planned to let students print physical copies of its collection and download e-versions onto USB sticks. It refused an offer by Ulmer's publisher to purchase the e-books since it has already purchased the paper editions.
In his opinion for the European high court - which was not made available in English - Advocate General Niilo Jaaskinen found that EU copyright law does not prohibit member states from letting libraries digitize books already in their collections, provided that better public access requires doing so. This would be the case for old, fragile or rare books that still have valid copyrights, Jaaskinen said.
The adviser for the Luxembourg-based court added that this possible exemption does not give libraries carte blanche to make wholesale digitization of entire collections to avoid buying the number of copies needed.
And EU copyright law also prohibits students and other users from saving the digitized works to USB drives or other digital media, according to the Thursday opinion. Allowing users to make their own private copies would infringe the author's exclusive right to communication, Jaaskinen wrote.
Since copyright law allows copying for private use, however, the adviser saw no problem with letting users print works that libraries make available in computer form. Jaaskinen said there is no difference between photocopying the pages of a physical book and printing pages from an e-version.
The risk of unlawful distribution of printed copies is much lower than for digital files from someone's USB drive, Jaaskinen concluded.
The adviser's opinion is not binding on the Court of Justice, which has begun its own deliberations in the case. Judgment will be given at a later date.