On September 11, 2014 (Case C-117/13), the EU Court of Justice handed down another judgement expected to further clarify the correct scope and interpretation of the copyright “exceptions and limitations” as provided under Article 5 of the EU Directive no. 2001/29. Particularly, in the case at hand, the Court focused on the “research or private study” exception established under Article 5, par. 3, letter n), which grants limited reproduction and communication rights to non-profit establishments and institutions actively involved in the promotion of public knowledge (e.g. publicly accessible libraries, educational establishments, museums, etc).
With such respect, the Court clarified that the above-mentioned institutions are granted the right to digitize the books in their collection, but only for the purpose of making such digital copies available for free access and visualization to their individual users through dedicated terminals located on their premises. Public libraries are therefore entitled to make digital copies of their paper books without previously obtaining an extended “digitization” license from the rightholders, provided – in any case – that they did not commit to specific “digital use restrictions” at the moment of the original purchase of the work.
Nonetheless, the Court pointed out that the libraries’ right to make available the digitized works to their public is strictly limited to the purpose of granting users the right to read and consult such works only from their terminals. In particular, under the Article 5 exceptions, libraries have no right to grant users the possibility to print out new paper copies of the works or to make further digital copies that they may then save on personal USB devices.
In fact, libraries making use of the Article 5 exception cannot commit to activities which may result in any way prejudicial: (i) to the fair compensation to which the authors of the work may be entitled, under the national laws, for any access granted to their works; (ii) to the normal exploitation of the works on part of the right-holders.
In particular, with respect to the latter limitation, public libraries’ limited rights under Article 5 are only meant to serve the public interest in the dissemination of knowledge through recognized public and non-profit institutions: therefore, according to the Court, such limited rights cannot imply any grant of free rights of reproduction and communication to the single users, and the number of digital copies made available from time to time to the public cannot be higher than the number of paper copies normally available on the shelves.