Legal deposit

For most countries the most effective way of collecting the national output is via a "legal deposit" scheme. The International Conference on National Bibliographic Services (ICNBS) reaffirmed, "the value of legal deposit as a means of ensuring that the cultural and intellectual heritage and linguistic diversity of the State is preserved and made accessible for current and future users."

National bibliographic agencies working with publishers or legislative bodies to create legal deposit agreements should be guided by the IFLA/UNESCO Guidelines for legal deposit legislation.

Legal deposit schemes may vary in their form but include:

  • Statutory legal deposit
  • Voluntary deposit
  • Mixed deposit

Statutory legal deposit

Legal deposit as a statutory obligation requires publishers, distributors and, in some countries, printers to freely provide copies of their publications to the national collection. In many countries this scope is being extended to include electronic resources together with other forms of non-print media.

Legal deposit legislation can also impose obligations on the national bibliographic agency relating to material received via legal deposit concerning:

  • Long term preservation
  • Description
  • Access
  • Restrictions on the use or disposal of such material.

Discrete or Incorporated Legislation

In some countries legal deposit is the subject of discrete legislation; in others provision for legal deposit may be incorporated into another act or law (e.g., the national library act). Experience shows that a discrete legal deposit act is more effective than legislation which forms a small part of another legislative matter (e.g., a freedom of expression act).

A legal deposit act generally establishes the basic principles of legal deposit. It is usually accompanied by regulations or another type of legal instrument that specifies the details of the system, such as the categories of material to be deposited, the number of copies, timeliness, etc. Irrespective of the type of legislation, the act must address compliance and provide mechanisms for extending the scope of deposit to new media.

Introduction of Legislation

The ICNBS recommendation number 2 states that countries presently without legislation are urged to introduce it. There is also a recommendation for evaluating legal deposit legislation to make sure that it meets present needs. Generally speaking older legislation tends to leave out newer types of materials, such as audio-visual or electronic materials.

Recommendation 3 from ICNBS summarises requirements for legal deposit legislation: "New deposit laws, or regulations pursuant to such laws, should state the objective of legal deposit; should ensure that the deposit of copies is relevant to achieving the goals stated above; should be comprehensive in terminology and wording to include existing types of materials with information content and others which may be developed; and should include measures for enforcement of the laws. Such legislation may take into account the possibility of sharing responsibility for deposit among more than one national institution."

In general all types of published material should be subject to legal deposit regardless of format. This includes audio-visual material and online electronic documents. If any forms of publications are left out it should be on the grounds of content, not information carrier.

Number of Copies

The number of copies to be deposited varies significantly from country to country. There is a general tendency to reduce rather than increase the number of copies deposited. This is based on the evidence that producers of information are more reluctant to deposit when the number of copies is high and especially when the documents are expensive to produce. The IFLA/UNESCO Guidelines for Legal Deposit Legislation suggest that a minimum of two copies should be deposited, one for preservation and the other for public use.


Many countries report that they do not have provisions for enforcing legal deposit legislation. Enforcement of deposit, whether legal or voluntary, is a problem. Deposit is an expense which some publishers would prefer to avoid. IFLA recommends that legal deposit laws should include mechanisms for enforcement.

The national bibliographic agency needs the sanction of the law to meet its responsibilities, but enforcement is generally viewed as the last resort. Imposing penalties on publishers does not encourage their participation in bibliographic control. Penalties lose their deterrent effect when they fail to keep up with inflation.

Experience in the United Kingdom suggests that prompt claiming has a significant impact on compliance. In some countries, copyright registration offers an incentive for publishers to deposit. National bibliographic agencies should encourage deposit through the efficiency and timeliness of their operations and aim to develop good relations with publishers. However, publishers must be made aware of their obligations and the public good and commercial benefits of timely deposit must be emphasised.

Voluntary deposit

"Voluntary deposit" is an agreement by which publishers commit to deposit material with the national bibliographic agency in the absence of a formal statutory requirement. The national bibliographic agency may also make commitments relating to the agreement concerning the description, long term preservation and access to material received. An effective voluntary agreement will include many features in common with formal legal deposit agreements, whether for print or digital material.

Mixed deposit

In some countries deposit arrangements may be a mixture of legal and voluntary deposit. Such hybrid arrangements may be a pragmatic response by national bibliographic agencies to the restricted scope of legal deposit. Selective voluntary deposit schemes may also arise from long standing agreements between the national bibliographic agency and a specific sector, such as the recording industry.

Voluntary schemes may be temporary, as when governments and national bibliographic agencies trial the extension of deposit to new categories of material through voluntary arrangements. The risk is that such temporary schemes may not ultimately lead to legal deposit. National bibliographic agencies should therefore monitor the relative effectiveness of such schemes compared to formal measures for other classes of material in order to support the case for extension of legal deposit.



The Norwegian Act of Legal Deposit of Generally Available Documents of 9 June 1989 came into effect on 1 July 1990. It was one of the first legal deposit acts to include digital publications, both offline and online. The act covers paper documents (e.g., books, periodicals, postcards, and photographs), sound recordings, films, videos, recordings of broadcasts and digital publications. Harvesting of the whole Norwegian domain has been carried out on a regular basis since 2005. A more selective harvesting approach is also being used; e.g. event based harvesting and downloading of newspapers.


The revised Act of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania of 11 November 2006, which replaced the Act of the Government of Lithuania of 22 November 1996, covers books, periodicals, printed music, micro-forms, audio-visual, cartographic, pictorial and electronic publications as well as materials published in Braille.

Lithuania was one of the first European countries to start archiving (in 2002) its domain and create bibliographic control of web documents.


There is no federal law on legal deposit in Switzerland. However, the Swiss National Library (SNL) has set up voluntary agreements with the two national publishers associations; Schweizerischer Buchändler– und Verleger–Verband (SBVV) and l’Association Suisse des Diffuseurs, Editeurs et Libraires (ASDEL), formerly SLESR, to build up its collections.

According to these agreements, publishers deposit a copy of each new publication with the SNL and which lists them in The Swiss Book, the national bibliography and in Helveticat, the online catalogue. In return, the SNL ensures the conservation of these publications and establishes annual statistics on Swiss literary output. The SNL also buys around 11,000 titles annually, mainly monographs published abroad and serials.

In the absence of formal legal deposit, more staff time is required to track and request publications. It is estimated that for printed monographs coverage is 90% although it can take up to two years to achieve this via claims requests since not all publishers (especially the smaller ones) automatically deposit items. The deposit of online digital resources is currently under examination.

United Kingdom and Ireland

The United Kingdom and Ireland are considered together because, although each country has its own legislative framework, the legal deposit obligations imposed on publishers operate across national boundaries.

In the United Kingdom, the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 ( acts2003/20030028.htm) and, in Ireland, the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000 (http:// make it obligatory for publishers and distributors in the United Kingdom and Ireland to deposit their publications.

Publishers and distributors in the United Kingdom and in Ireland have a legal obligation to deposit published material in the six legal deposit libraries which collectively maintain the national published archive of the British Isles. These are:

  • The British Library
  • The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford
  • Cambridge University Library
  • The National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
  • The Library of Trinity College, Dublin
  • The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

Publishers are obliged to send one copy of each of their publications to the British Library within one month of publication. The other five libraries have the right to claim items. In practice many publishers deposit their publications with all six libraries without waiting for a claim to be made. In the UK a court order may be obtained to enforce compliance and, in the last resort, to impose a financial penalty. In Ireland, publishers may be required to deposit up to 13 copies and failure to comply with the legal deposit requirements can result in a substantial fine.

All printed publications come within the scope of legal deposit. Under the The Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations 2013 electronic publications also came into scope. In Ireland, the Copyright and Related Rights Act, 2000 has extended legal deposit to electronic formats.

In the absence of legal deposit legislation covering audio-visual materials, the British Library Sound Archive has a long-standing agreement with the British Phonographic Industry Ltd (BPI), through which its members agree to deposit up to two copies of all UK recordings free of charge. In practice intake of BPI members' and other record companies' output is dependent on resources available to monitor output and request deposit.