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News from the open access movement

Friday, September 07, 2007

How Germany's new copyright law obstructs OA

Antonia Loick, The New Copyright Act, Goethe-Institut, August 2007.  Also available in German.  Excerpt:

On 5th July 2007, the German Bundestag passed the Second Act Governing Copyright in the Information Society (the "Second Basket" of copyright law reform). Four years after the first reform, a new balance has been struck between the interests of authors, exploiters, equipment producers and end-users, none of whom are, however, especially happy with the compromise solution....

Open access: scientists and researchers versus science publishers

A further subject of dispute regulated by the Copyright Act concerns the interests of researchers and the scientific community, on the one hand, and science publishers, on the other. The dispute centres on the question of whether scientists have a basic right to access knowledge they have produced free of charge ("open access"), knowledge that has traditionally been published and sold by scientific publishers.

The bill had originally actually provided for schools, universities and non-commercial research institutes to be allowed to digitise copyrighted works for their own purposes and without having to obtain permission and to post them on an intranet or the Internet and reproduce them from there as often as they wished. This proposal was put forward by the Coalition for Action "Copyright Law for Education and Research" (Aktionsbündnis "Urheberrecht für Bildung und Wissenschaft“), set up jointly by major German research organisations such as the Max Planck Society, the Conference of University Directors and the Helmholtz Association. They argued that it is absolutely essential that the members of an information society should have free access to the findings of scientific research, especially if the lion's share of such findings has been generated via publicly funded research institutes. Although there are indeed a number of good reasons that speak in favour of this proposal, its statutory implementation would have ruined numerous publishing houses. This cannot be in the interests of society. The Act therefore contains a compromise solution: museums, libraries and archives may now digitise their collections and display them at electronic workstations. However, the number of reproductions of a particular work that may be shown simultaneously at such stations will be dependent on the number of copies of the work the library has in its collection. A further controversial issue was also regulated. In future, libraries will be permitted to transmit copies of newspaper articles or excerpts from books to their users if the pertinent publisher does not offer this service itself.

On 21st September 2007, the bill will go before the Bundesrat (Upper House). If no objections are raised, the new Copyright Act will come into effect before the end of the year. It can, however, already be safely assumed that the reformed Act, too, will require revision in the near future as a result of the rapid pace of technological developments. Many of today's opponents will then be found back in the arena, battling fiercely over the contents of the "third basket" of copyright reform.

Update. Germany's Bundesrat approved the bill on September 21, 2007, and the new rules take effect on January 1, 2008. For an English-language summary of the key provisions, see this document from STM (October 2007).