Getting a License to Use an Out-of-Print Work Published in Germany

Today’s Read:
Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (German National Library), Lizenzierungservice Vergriffene Werke (VW-LIS) (Licensing Service for Out-of-Print Works), (

The German National Library (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, or DNB) recently announced a service to offer licenses to use (Nutzungslizenzen) works that are out-of print (vergriffen).

This is a very intriguing and timely announcement.  With libraries and archives currently closed to the public because of COVID-19, there has been a marked uptick in the requests that we are seeing from researchers for digitized materials.  Establishing a reasonable licensing procedure that would allow us to offer digitized versions of out-of-print works could really help ease some of the pain that researchers are experiencing right now.  I do not know if there is a similar service offered here in the United States — if not, it would be an interesting conversation to have about whether the Library of Congress should consider offering one.

So what does this license issued by the DNB allow you to do? It allows you to “digitize and make freely available out-of-print works published in the 20th century” (“vergriffene Druckwerke des 20. Jahrhunderts digitalisieren und frei zugänglich bereitstellen zu können”).

How does a work fall under the category of “out-of-print” for the purpose of this service? The library defines it as follows: “a work is out of print if it is no longer offered by a publisher and, therefore, is no longer available on the book market” (“Vergriffen ist ein Werk, für das kein verlegerisches Angebot mehr existiert und das folglich über den Buchhandel nicht mehr lieferbar ist”).

A work will not fall under this category if the same or a newer edition is commercially available, either as an eBook, a reprint, or on microform.

There are additional qualifications for a work to be available for licensed use under this program. The work must have been published prior to January 1, 1966, in Germany, in any of the following publication types:

  • Books (Büchern)
  • Subject-specific periodicals (Fachzeitschriften)
  • Newspapers (Zeitungen)
  • General periodicals (Zeitschriften)

Institutions that are eligible to license works fall under the category of “collecting societies” (Verwertungsgesellschaften) as defined in the Collecting Societies Act (Verwertungsgesellschaftengesetz, VGG) (available in English at  According to Section 51 of the Act, these include “publicly accessible libraries, educational institutions, museums, archives and institutions active in the field of film and audio heritage” (“öffentlich zugänglichen Bibliotheken, Bildungseinrichtungen, Museen, Archiven und von im Bereich des Film- oder Tonerbes”)

Section 51 also provides a broad regulatory framework for the licensing process.  To receive a license to use a work under this program, the collecting society must hold the work in its collection, and it cannot offer access to the work for any commercial purposes.  It must file an application for the license with the national library, and the license will only be granted if the copyright holder (Rechtsinhaber) does not file an objection (Widerspruch) to the issuance of the license within six weeks of the application being submitted.

The DNB’s program description website has an extensive FAQ, which includes answers to questions about setting up a license application account.  It also includes a link to the register of out-of-print works (Register vergriffener Werke) that is maintained by the German Patent and Trademark Office at

I know that the Harvard Library has a VERY extensive collection of German materials.  Perhaps we should consider undertaking a project to apply for some of these licenses, if for no other reason than to get an idea of the feasibility of replicating the project for works published in the U.S.  It’s something to think about, anyway. 



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