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.