In a directive issued this week, a European Union court held that European libraries can digitize works in their collections but, without an explicit exception by a member state, are limited to displaying digitized works at dedicated reading terminals.

The directive comes after a German court asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for clarity on a pending case, in which the Technical University of Darmstadt is being sued by German publisher Eugen Ulmer KG for digitizing works for use at “electronic reading posts.” Eugen Ulmer is seeking to “prevent the university from digitizing the book in question and users of the library from being able, via the electronic reading points, to print out the book or store it on a USB stick and/or take those reproductions out of the library.”

In its decision, the court held that EU libraries have the right to digitize works in their collection, “even if the rightsholder offers to a library the possibility of concluding licensing agreements for the use of his works on appropriate terms.”

The right of libraries “to communicate, by dedicated terminals, the works they hold in their collections would risk being rendered largely meaningless, or indeed ineffective, if they did not have an ancillary right to digitize the works in question,” Court officials said in a release.

However, the court also held that the libraries “cannot permit individuals to print out the works on paper or store them on a USB stick from dedicated terminals” unless libraries and the rightsholder agree and “fair compensation” is paid to the rightsholder.

“The printing out of a work on paper and its storage on USB sticks are acts of reproduction, in so far as they aim to create a new copy of the digital copy made available to individuals,” the Court statement reads. “Such acts of reproduction are not necessary for communicating the work to users by means of dedicated terminals and are therefore not covered by the right of communication by means of dedicated terminals.”

The Court's decision is for clarification, and the case now goes back to the German court for a ruling in the case.