A major advance in the most recent European copyright reform has been the inclusion of a ‘contract override’ provision for most of the new copyright exceptions.

This addresses the problem that thanks to the principle of freedom of contract, libraries can often find themselves with fewer possibilities to allow for access to, and use of, a work than the law suggests.

In effect, if a contract has been signed – even when there has been no negotiation, or even possibility to negotiate – the library is obliged to respect terms that prevent them from carrying out activities such as preservation, document supply, or research copying.

A number of countries have recognised that such contract terms risk undermining the public interest goals of exceptions, and impose major bureaucratic costs on libraries that then need to check contracts individually.

As a result, they have decided to cut through the confusion by declaring that contract terms that provide fewer access or use possibilities than exceptions are unenforceable.

The latest report from IFLA sets out different approaches to this, as well as giving examples from current laws of how it is done in practice.

Download the report as a PDF. See also the British Library’s study of 100 Contracts.