This is a guest post by Bernd Fiedler, policy manager at Wikimedia Deutschland. Bernd previously worked as a teacher and is aiming at improving the framework for free education. WMDE is a Communia member organisation.
In the “Urheberrechts-Wissensgesellschafts-Gesetz” (engl. roughly: Copyright Knowledge-Society Act), the German legislator tries to improve the legal framework for educators and scientists in Germany, as part of a general clean-up of the exceptions section of the Copyright Code. In general, 15% of a protected work can be used for educational and scientific purposes without permission until 2023.
The law, introduced last minute at the end of the legislative period in 2017, was long overdue. It was heavily lobbied, it is limited to five years, and it is already scheduled for review. Still, as Federal Minister of Justice Heiko Maas put it, because it is bundled into a single document, it somewhat clarifies regulation for educators, coming into effect on March 1, 2018.
In Germany, legislation on education and research is fragmented due to the federal constitution. So far, with the exception of the Copyright Code, which is federal law, the state-level executive and legislative bodies have full responsibility for education in their Länder (states). This includes the details on how copyright exceptions and limitations for education are handled in practice, which is regulated very granularly in treaties between the states’ culture ministers on one side and rightsholder representatives on the other. In practice, there were 16 different ways of handling copyright in education and some federal-level treaties that had to be considered.
From March onwards, educational institutions can use up to 15% of any single work (e.g. Book, Film etc.) in order to supply their courses and staff, and use that amount even for third-party presentations, as long as this serves to present the teaching outcome or similar at the institution itself. Single images, “a few” scientific articles from the same academic journal issue, out-of-distribution works and “works of smaller proportions” can be used in their entirety.
Before, the federal law only contained vague legal terms such as “shorter extracts”, “works of smaller proportions”, the meaning of which had to be negotiated into the abovementioned treaties at state level, leading in practice to different extent limitations in each state.
Shortcomings of the new exception