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EU court strengthens libraries' right to digitize

The EU has said libraries may digitize their own collections without permission from copyright holders. That makes more books available to more people - but irks copyright advocates and publishers.

For students writing academic papers at the last minute, it can be a big problem when the book they need has already been checked out of the library. An EU court has now found a solution to that problem that has publishers up in arms.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled Thursday that libraries may digitize the paper books in their collection without obtaining the consent of the copyright holders and make them available at reading stations within the library.

The ruling originated with a case taken to Germany's Federal Court of Justice German publishing house Eugen Ulmer and the Technical University of Darmstadt. The publisher protested when the university library digitized a book and offered it on its electronic reading posts, but did not purchase the e-book version. The German court then turned to the highest European court for clarification.

Free only at the library

According to the ruling, digital copies of libraries' collection can only be read in the library itself. Library users must compensate the right holders of the books if they print or have them stored on a USB device.

The amount of compensation has not yet been determined, though the court press release states that payment should be "fair." Nevertheless, the financial ramifications of the ruling for publishing houses remain to be seen.

Online access to the digital copies from mobile devices like iPads and smartphones has not yet been determined by the court.

The case between publisher Eugen Ulmer and the Technical University of Darmstadt will be reviewed by the German national court or tribunal in accordance with the CJEU's decision, as the Court of Justice does not decide on individual disputes.

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