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Copyright law reform in Germany – what is this “UrhWissG”, really?

Copyright law reform in Germany – what is this “UrhWissG”, really?
Last year, German Parliament passed a controversial copyright reform bill known as UrhWissG (Gesetz zum Urheberrecht für die Wissenschaft) which came into effect in March 2018 and will be subject to review after a 5-year period.

The review had become necessary over concerns that major changes in the academic landscape due to the digital revolution had rendered previous laws outdated.

The freshly amended bill aims to provide clear regulations to ensure at least basic access to copyright-protected works for research and teaching purposes without the author’s prior permission.

At the heart of UrhWissG are six statutory exceptions:

  1. Usage of up to 15% of a work for teaching purposes at schools and higher education facilities (§ 60a UrhG)
  2. Facilitating the creation of teaching materials (§ 60b UrhG)
  3. Usage of up to 15% of a copyright-protected work for non-commercial research; up to 75% for one’s own research (§ 60c UrhG)
  4. Regulation of text and data mining (§ 60d UrhG)
  5. Permission for libraries to digitize their inventory and transmit digital copies (§ 60e UrhG)
  6. Exceptions for museums and archives (§ 60f UrhG)
Authors continue to receive remuneration for the use of their copyrighted works. Compensation will be handled by collecting societies such as VG WORT.

Whereas Johanna Wanka, Federal Minister of Education and Research at that time, considers the new law an “asset to research and teaching”, other stakeholders were quick to point out flaws such as the limited term of legal force as well as the lack of a statutory exception for newspaper articles.
What exactly does UrhWissG mean for researchers?
From March 1st, the 15% rule also applies to the use of extensive (26 pages or more) copyright-protected works for research purposes within the framework of research partnerships. For their own personal, non-commercial research, researchers may use up to 75% of an extensive copyrighted work.

Another statutory exemption for research is made for the computer-aided processing and analysis of large amounts of data called text and data mining. The new law clarifies that the copies created in the process are legal and may be used by research teams and reviewers.

With regards to the access to and use of data bases, UrhWissG states that researches may access them, perform a read-out of the contents and create a new corpus /data base for further analysis. The exemption is limited to non-commercial research and stipulates that the corpus has to be deleted upon finishing analysis, but may be transmitted to a library or other memory institution for archiving.
What exactly does UrhWissG mean for libraries?

In the past, one legal concern for libraries has been the transmission of copies on demand. Where they were previously allowed only to send non-searchable graphics files, this limitation has now been eliminated. This means that libraries can now legally send copies to non-commercial users.


The new law also solves a long-standing dispute about whether libraries may allow digitized works to be saved on a USB stick or printed out. Such secondary copies are now legal, however, they are restricted to 10% of any extensive copyright-protected work.

It remains to be seen what influence, if any, these new regulations on the national level will have on the hotly debated EU copyright reform proposal that were voted on by the Legal Affairs Committee in June and have to pass the European parliament in July.

The full wording of the law can be found here.

Blog post written by  Jessica Rex, German NOAD.
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