Legal deposit has existed in English law since 1662. It helps to ensure that the nation’s published output (and thereby its intellectual record and future published heritage) is collected systematically, to preserve the material for the use of future generations and to make it available for readers within the designated legal deposit libraries.
Though frequently referred to as ‘copyright’, because the privilege has been included in successive Copyright Acts, it is more correctly described as ‘legal deposit’.
There are six legal deposit libraries in the United Kingdom and Ireland:
- The British Library
- The Bodleian Libraries, Oxford
- Cambridge University Library
- National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
- The Library of Trinity College, Dublin
- National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
Material published and deposited is retained in the Libraries as part of the national published archive and the libraries represent in a sense the archives of publishers’ printed material. The libraries supports learning and knowledge and the publications it secures become available in perpetuity to generations to follow, providing source material for new books that will eventually achieve publication.
The legal deposit system also has benefits for authors and publishers:
- Deposited publications are made available to users of the deposit libraries on their premises, are preserved for the benefit of future generations, and become part of the nation’s heritage.
- Publications are recorded in the online catalogues, and become an essential research resource for generations to come.
- Most of the books and new serial titles are listed in the British National Bibliography (BNB), which is used by librarians and the book trade for stock selection; the BNB is available on CD-ROM in MARC exchange formats, and has a world-wide distribution.
- Publishers have at times approached the deposit libraries for copies of their own publications which they no longer have but which have been preserved through legal deposit.
- Legal deposit supports a cycle of knowledge, whereby deposited works provide inspiration and source material for new books that will eventually achieve publication.
An overview of what is included:
All printed works are covered by the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 including books, pamphlets, single sheets, maps, printed music, journals and newspapers. From 6 April 2013, legal deposit also covers material published digitally and online, so that the Legal Deposit Libraries can provide a national archive of the UK’s non-print published material, such as websites, blogs, e-journals and CD-ROMs.
The Bodleian Libraries will be referring to this new material as Electronic Legal Deposit (eLD).
Printed publications and works on hand held media such as CD-ROMs must be deposited at the British Library within a month of publication.
The other legal deposit libraries are entitled to claim free of charge a copy of everything published in the United Kingdom, provided they make a claim within 12 months of the date of publication. These libraries use the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries which acts on their behalf in claiming materials which are due, and serves as the statutory depot for the receipt of material acquired under the terms of the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003.
Under the Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations 2013, Legal Deposit Libraries will copy UK-published material from the internet, including freely accessible material on the open web. They are also entitled to harvest copies of password-protected or paid-for material, but are putting alternative arrangements in place for any publisher who prefers to deliver such material to them instead.
For further information see:
Electronic legal deposit (non-print publications)
Websites and Web Pages
Identifying UK Websites and electronic publications
Legal deposit (print publications)
Legal Deposit Operations