Is the new education exception in Germany geared towards the 21st century?

Anatomische les van professor Paaw
New law already scheduled for review
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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

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Public Domain on Trial in Reiss-Engelhorn Museum vs. Wikimedia et al.

Portrait of Richard Wagner
Digitisation of public domain works should not create new rights.
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Is it dangerous to take a public domain picture from Wikipedia and use it on your blog or print it on a T-shirt? Last week we wrote about a copyright case in Germany where several users of public domain pictures received letters from the lawyers of Mannheim’s Reiss-Engelhorn museum. The letters demanded payment for the use of photos of public domain art works that had been uploaded to Wikipedia. The museum justifies this legal action by pointing to the costs of digitizing their artworks and the respective acquisition of some form of ancillary copyright protection for simple photographs (“Lichtbildschutz”, § 72 in the German copyright law). On Wikimedia Commons, the repository that hosts media for Wikipedia, there is already a separate category for “Images subject to Reiss Engelhorn lawsuit”.

Amongst the several recipients of the letters were not only Wikimedia Germany and the Wikimedia Foundation, but also the online radio station detektor.fm and the non-profit website “Musical&Co”, which features music-related articles authored by children for children. Continue reading

Why is a museum suing Wikipedia for sharing?

Portrait of Richard Wagner
digitisation of public domain works doesn't create new rights
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Above is the Portrait of Richard Wagner by Cäsar Willich, one of the contested images.

Yesterday the Wikimedia Foundation and Wikimedia Deutschland announced that they’re fighting a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by the Reiss Engelhorn Museum. The German museum is suing Wikimedia for publishing digital reproductions of public domain artworks from its collection on Wikipedia. The physical works of art housed in the museum are clearly in the public domain, but German copyright law might apply to photographic reproductions of those works. According to Wikimedia,

The Reiss Engelhorn Museum asserts that copyright applies to these particular images because the museum hired the photographer who took some of them and it took him time, skill, and effort to take the photos. The Reiss Engelhorn Museum further asserts that because of their copyrights, the images of the artwork cannot be shared with the world through Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia aligned its goals with those of many cultural heritage institutions, and restated their community’s ongoing commitment to increasing the accessibility and reuse of creative content in the commons. The foundation and Wikimedia Deutschland disagreed with the views of the museum, saying that “Copyright law should not be misused to attempt to control the dissemination of works of art that have long been in the public domain…[t]he intent of copyright is to reward creativity and originality, not to create new rights limiting the online sharing of images of public domain works.” Continue reading

More evidence from Germany: ancillary copyright still not working

Interieur met een vrouw die de krant leest
More band news for proponents of ancillary copyright
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Over the last month the German publishers who are pushing for ancillary copyright for press publishers on the EU level have encountered two more setbacks in their attempts to turn the ancillary rights that they have in Germany into actual revenue.

Freedom to link upheld

First the Bundeskartellamt (the German competition authority) rejected claims made by the publishers that Google has acted in violation of competition rules by removing from its search results text snippets from publishers who have not granted them a royalty-free license. Google had started removing such snippets after the introduction of the ancillary copyright for press publishers to avoid having to pay for displaying the snippets. As a result, the publishers soon discovered that not having their stories findable via Google News cost them substantial amounts of visitors—and thus revenue. Because of this realization, the majority of publishers grant royalty-free licenses to Google to ensure that their content is included in Google News.

In their complaint to the Bundeskartellamt the publishers argued that Google was abusing its dominant position in the search and news aggregation markets if it would not display the snippets unless it was granted a royalty-free license. The Bundeskartellamt flat-out rejected this argument, stating that if an online service does not want to acquire a license for the display of snippets—and hence only display search results without a snipped portion of the underlying text—it is perfectly free to do so. According to the competition authority there is nothing in antitrust law that prevents companies from doing this, even if they hold the dominant market position. Continue reading