back to article European Court of Justice allows digitisation of library books

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 …

  1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Copying & Printing

    I can understand the court ruling against the copying of the electronic version to USB stick. But printing is a bit more interesting. In the UK, you can legally photocopy a small amount of a book for private study. So printing a small amount of a scanned version should be no different.

    1. Doctor_Wibble

      Re: Copying & Printing

      Fair comment, though unless they are getting rid of the physical books completely, maybe they don't have to change anything in that respect, just point you towards the actual dusty tome?

      Alternatively, printing of scanned versions gets limited to x amount of pages (exact percentage get defined in court at some point?), potentially printable only by an authorised librarian.

      So get enough people printing that percentage of said book and some string and a couple of bits of cardboard, hey presto your own deluxe bound edition! But since that's the only one you will all have to fight over who gets to use it because it's an attempt to bend the rules, not obliterate them by doing 100 copies before binding... that said, I suspect this kind of thing may already have been declared 'unsporting'.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Copying & Printing

        It's called fair usage. You're allowed to photocopy smallish exerpts of a book (from memory, no more than 10%), but not the whole book. Enforcement is usually informal, by means of the library's photo-copier. It typically costs 10p/page, some of which is fed back to book publishers although they can't know what was copied. That also discourages excessive copying: 400 pages at 10p/page is £40, and the majority of books cost less than that. And of course, if you use the copier for too long, the librarians will investigate what you are up to.

        There's a HUGE loophole in that if you can borrow the book, you can copy it on some other scanner or copier! In my UG days, the publisher had allowed a recommended book to go out of print, and every student had an "illegal" copy.

        It ought to be straightforward to link a dedicated terminal displaying a scanned book to a library printer, in such a way that fair usage rules are enforced.

        I'n recent years I've taken to using my phone to photograph exerpts, rather than pay to use the library copier. Don't know what the rules say about that, but I feel it's fair. So far the librarians have ignored me. The copy is inferior. It's mainly a way for me to time-shift by study of the exerpt rather than anything that I want to keep long-term. (It occurs to me that taking photos of a screen is easier than taking photos of a paper page).

  2. Crisp

    Dedicated Terminal?

    Do they mean a Kindle?

    1. Chad H.

      Re: Dedicated Terminal?

      No, they mean some sort of fixed kiosk. The kindle would have to be attached to something, not one you can take home

  3. ratfox

    I really wonder if it makes sense to retain copyrights as they are, or if they are doomed by the advance of technology. I think that the only hope content producers have is already to make it easier to buy for their content rather than acquire it illegally…

  4. Dr. Mouse

    While I understand that certain measures need to be respected, personally I believe that if I own something in one format, I am morally (not legally in the UK, I believe) entitled to convert it to another format for my own use. So, if I buy a DVD, I will not think twice about ripping it, or downloading a copy "illegally". Books are no different in pure terms, although I have never sat there and scanned an entire book (as it is not worth the time and effort, to me). I have, however, downloaded electronic copies of books I already own from less reputable sites. Morally, I see nothing wrong with this: I bought it, I just want it in a different format.

    I, personally, don't believe they should allow licensing terms which prohibit this, and I think it should be legal. If I bought a VHS copy of a film many years ago, why should I be forced to pay again for exactly the same content as an electronic copy? Same with eBooks: I have a large number of books, but now want to store them on my tablet or ereader. Why should I have to pay again (normally a higher price, even though there is no physical media)?

    At the very least, I believe that you should be able to send a book back to the publisher and be granted an electronic copy (if not free of charge, at least for a very low fee). At least then they know you don't have a second copy, you have just format shifted the first.

    The law needs to catch up with technology.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Poor eyesight

      An interesting case is people who need to enlarge something because of their poor eyesight. Use a magnifying glass, you say? That's not so good for piano music!

      But I don't think they should make an exception specifically for sheet music and people with poor eyesight. It should follow from a general rule allowing format shifting, as you suggest.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Poor eyesight

        An interesting case is people who need to enlarge something because of their poor eyesight. Use a magnifying glass, you say? That's not so good for piano music!

        Actually, it probably is, unless the poorly sighted musician is also a wizard sight-reader, and has a very good page-turner to assist him. Mostly, musicians have memorized what's on the page a long time before they've perfected their performance, and the sheet music in front of them is more for reassurance than out of necessity. Some will perform without any paper at all.

        Blind musicians don't have the paper option. It doesn't seem to impede them. I wonder, do they learn completely by ear from recordings, or do they need the help of a sighted teacher to learn a new work?

        Mozart heard a secret papal mass - once! - as a child! - and then wrote down the entire score, note-perfect. But he was a genius.

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

          Re: Poor eyesight

          Blind musicians don't have the paper option. It doesn't seem to impede them. I wonder, do they learn completely by ear from recordings, or do they need the help of a sighted teacher to learn a new work?

          I can't speak for all blind musicians, but I know one blind musician. She has to buy braille versions of sheet music. It has to be specially typeset. I don't think it's just a case of loading in a Sibelius file and sending it to the braille printer. She then memorises from the braille version.

      2. Gel

        Re: Poor eyesight

        I understand there is a disability copyright exemption,

    2. Whitter

      Copyright and reformatting: not an easy thing to "rule" on.

      It's an interesting aspect of copyright as there are obvious cases when reformatting is clearly fair use and others where it is clearly taking the p***. Something a bit middling then for mulling over?

      e.g. Buy a 'cheap' A4 sized print of a local artist's work; then scan and up-sample to A1 rather than paying for the large print in the first place. Is this fair? Some will think so; others not. Some will think it is a matter for the artist to define fair/not in such a case; others will not. Probably exactly the same people (respectively).

      1. Dr. Mouse

        Re: Copyright and reformatting: not an easy thing to "rule" on.

        Buy a 'cheap' A4 sized print of a local artist's work; then scan and up-sample to A1 rather than paying for the large print in the first place. Is this fair?

        I would say yes. You do not get the same detail in the smaller piece, and no up-scaling will bring back that detail. You may get a reasonable copy by doing so, but you will never have an A1 print, you will have an A4 print enlarged to A1.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It makes me genuinely sad that we have invented a truly amazing technology in e-books and the associated readers and yet we've ended up with something that is actually worse than a flattened dead tree. I understand the publishers and authors need to make money but having to go to the library to read an electronic version of a book is just crazy (especially if you could check out the actual book and take it home).

    It's a shame that no Government seems to be willing to sit down and have the difficult debate about how we are going to handle intellectual property in the future now that manufacture is essentially free. One thing is absolutely certain though, if the publishers and Governments don't work together to find a fair solution to the problem the consumers will find their own solution.

    1. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

      What you call "manufacture" - in this case writing a book - isn't "free".

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      You're confusing creation and duplication.

      Creation of a piece of intellectual property (Software, music, art, literature, etc) can take a long time (Many years by multiple people in some cases)

      Reproduction can be just as simple as hitting "copy" in a file manager.

      1. Rustident Spaceniak

        Creation and Duplication

        You mention the salient point, mouse. It is only fair that the creators of intellectual property should be paid by the users of the same. For the distributors, it's a bit different. Producing a copy of a technical book with many graphs on dead trees once cost real money - far more than typesetting, and the books, with short print runs, were correspondingly expensive. Now that's no longer the case, so the price structure of textbooks (and sheet music) should rightly evolve to reflect technological progress. Strangely enough, that reflection appears quite faint in many cases.

        For an editor like the house of Eugen Ulmer, the world has changed drastically in the last 20 or so years and I can understand they lag behind in adapting. Nonetheless, the first editors to find a universally accepted business model that enables easy duplication but provides a fair income per reader for the author and for the editor, will stand to make very serious money.

        I have some volumes in the rack next to me that cost nearly as much as the laptop I'm typing this on, but most of that really goes into production and distribution; if I could buy newer electronic copies for 20% or so of their price (whatever reflects the fair cost of electronic publishing), I almost certainly would; and I guess the total number of electronic sales would dwarf the printing run.

        1. DragonLord

          Re: Creation and Duplication

          Given that, as a private individual, you can buy a ream of really good quality paper for less than £10, and you can also get companies to deliver 100's lbs of goods in the same country for around a score. Do you really think that the dead tree edition of the books that you've got were the main sink for the money you spent on them?

          No, the main money sinks were in the time that people took before the book on your shelf existed to create the master copy that your book is a copy of. If you tot up the cost of everyone's time and expenses from the time the author puts pen to paper, to the moment the printing plates have been produced and production is ready to begin you'll probably find that that's a pretty large chunk of cash. Add a small percentage on in case another book doesn't do so well and you're approaching the true cost for the publisher.

          Someone else has done the work to analyse these figures here

          Looking at those figures, you're only going to save around 50% of the price of a dead tree edition book, most of which is the retailers costs rather than the publishers costs. Which when I look at amazon for books that have been out for a while seems to be where their prices end up.

          1. Charles 9

            Re: Creation and Duplication

            Now, for professional textbooks and such with intricate and exacting layouts (picture and diagrams have to exist in a certain arrangement, etc), particularly in colour, yes there's an art in itself to the layout which would require the work of a skilled professional. Plus there's the research and verification of the source material by experts in the related field. Given all that and relatively low print runs, professional books will always be expensive simply for all that: never mind the ink, presses, and paper.

            What about for a simple novel with few if any illustartions (all B&W) and no complicated layouts (say the illustrations are all full-page and all the text follows a fixed layout? Does it really, really cost that much to that such simple typesetting?

            1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

              Re: Creation and Duplication

              > Does it really, really cost that much to that such simple typesetting?

              Well no, if it's all text then it doesn't take all that long to munge the finished manuscript into a fully laid out file ready for printing - I've done it several times and once the format was defined it got fairly easy. But note that I said "finished manuscript" ?

              When the author has finished writing down those words (which as pointed out may take years), there's still a lot of work to be done. The services of a professional proofreader & editor are essential - anyone who's done it will know that you cannot spot many errors in your own work as you "know" what is supposed to be there and your mind corrects on the fly.

              And then there is editing to suit local factors - Mum had one of her books accepted by a US publisher and they ravaged it to suit their language (pity they didn't do it manually as "autocorrect" made some very interesting alterations to the text !

              All this doesn't come cheap - and has to be amortised over the expected run. This means a high per-copy cost for most books.

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