Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chance for OA to copyrighted German literature published before 1995

Klaus Graf, Urheberrechtsnovelle - Implikationen für die Wissenschaft, H-Soz-u-Kult, August 29, 2007.  Read the German or Google’s English.

In short:  German copyright law will change in late 2007 or early 2008, and authors will have one year to decide whether they want to own the exclusive electronic rights to their works published in Germany before 1995, or transfer the rights to their publishers.  If authors choose to keep the electronic rights, and tell their publishers within a year, then by law they will own those rights and may therefore authorize OA for those works.  If they don’t, then the rights will vest in the publisher.  Graf includes a sample letter to send to publishers to deny them electronic publishing rights.  The new rules apply to authors of any nationality who published with a German publisher before 1995.


  • The issue is very similar to the one raised by New York Times v. Tasini in the US in June 2001.  (See my brief article on it from July 2001.)  Early publishing contracts were silent on electronic rights, and as the internet grew authors and publishers both needed to know who owned those rights.  In the US, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the authors.  Roughly:  if the contract didn’t expressly transfer electronic rights to publishers, then the rights were never transferred.  In Germany, the issue was decided by legislation and in nearly the opposite way.  The rights will go to the publisher unless authors expressly communicate their opposite desire to the publisher within a year. 
  • If your rights are at stake, read the German law and don’t rely on my very imperfect paraphrase.
  • Please spread the word to authors who might be affected.  It’s a shame that authors must act or lose rights that they never knowingly transferred.  But if they do act, they could authorize OA for an enormous body of copyrighted German literature.

Update (11/13/07). Klaus has updated his appeal and linked to some others who join him in making it.

Update (11/23/07). See Klaus' latest update and my own.