Last week the CJEU handed down another judgement dealing with digital activities of libraries (see our take on the e-lending decision from 2 weeks ago here). In its judgement in the Doke & Soulier case (C 301/15) the court ruled that the French law on out-of-print books, which allows French publishers to publish digital editions of out-of-print books, violates the exclusive rights of authors as established by the InfoSoc directive. This means that the French scheme for making out-of-print books available (reLire) will either need to be modified or scrapped.
The judgement does not come entirely unexpected as it is largely in line with the Advocate General opinion from earlier this year. As we have already noted in our analysis of the AG opinion, the case has the potential to undermine Extended Collective Licensing (ECL), which is currently held as the solution for the issue of out-of-commerce works.
At this point it is unclear how the Doke & Soulier judgement relates to the EU Commission’s proposal for dealing with out-of-commerce works in the collections of cultural heritage institutions—currently a part of the proposal for a Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive. Regardless, the judgement casts a shadow of doubt over ECL arrangements such as the one at the center of the Commission’s proposal. This is mainly due to the fact that through this decision the court has established stringent criteria that national measures would need to fulfil. The fact that according to the court “every author must actually be informed of the future use of his work by a third party and the means at his disposal to prohibit it if he so wishes” (para 38) seems to contradict the very purpose of Extended Collective Licensing arrangements, which is to circumvent the need to clear rights on a per-work (or per-rightsholder) basis.
Can ECL still provide a solution for out-of-commerce works?
Looking at the reasoning of the court, it becomes evident that the judgement is not so much concerned with the operation of of ECL as a legal mechanism, but rather with the question of whether EU member states can limit the ability of authors to exercise their exclusive rights in ways other than those foreseen by the EU legislator. The court answers this with a resounding “no” and then goes on to examine whether the French system respects the ability of authors to object to the use of their out-of-print works. The court comes to the conclusion that it does not, because authors are neither individually informed about future uses of their works, and because their ability to opt out of such uses is limited. In summary, the court does not declare ECL in general incompatible with the InfoSoc directive, but has ruled, that the French ECL implementation does not sufficiently respect the authors’ exclusive rights. Continue reading