Legal Deposit

Writing Magazine – February 2021

When it comes to the business of writing, it doesn’t get much better than seeing your book in print. And if you’ve chosen the self-publishing route, then chances are you’ve encountered many challenges along the way. But our responsibilities as an author- publisher don’t stop once our book is on sale. There’s another important business responsibility we’re required to undertake.

All publishers have a legal duty to send a single copy of every book they publish to the British Library Legal Deposit Office within thirty days of publication. It’s the law. And even though this law has existed since 1662, it also applies to any writer who has self-published their book today. In fact, it applies to anyone publishing a book that will be available to the public. That includes writers’ groups that publish an anthology.

Changes to the legislation in 2013 extended this requirement to include electronic books as well as print books. Therefore, even if you only self-publish in ebook format on Amazon, you are still required by law to provide a digital copy of your book to the British Library Legal Deposit Office.

Publishing Parameters

This applies to every published book, including those without an ISBN (International Standard Book Number). It doesn’t matter how big or small a print run the book has, or if it’s only available through print on demand. As long as the book has been published and is available to the UK public then publishers have a duty to provide copies to the legal deposit libraries.

The Act also requires publishers to deposit copies of pamphlets, magazines, newspapers, sheet music, maps and charts.

National Resource

‘We want to encourage all self-publishers to deposit their books with the British Library and the five other legal deposit libraries,’ says Andrew Davis, Legal Deposit Publisher Relations Manager at the British Library. ‘Legal Deposit is really important to ensure that our collections reflect the full range and diversity of writing in the UK, and self-publishing is an important and growing part of that. Depositing your books ensures they will be preserved for the long term in our national collection. A record will be created in our catalogue and in the British National Bibliography, an important resource used in libraries and the book trade for identifying new publications.’

This is why the legal requirement is important. It ensures that a copy of everything published in the country is retained. Our books become part of the nation’s literary heritage that is collated for future generations. When a book goes out a print and is no longer available through bookshops or local authority libraries, the chances are there’s a copy available in the British Library. (There have been times when publishers have lost copies of their published works and only secured a replacement copy thanks to the deposit they were required to make at the Legal Deposit Libraries.)

This is a vital resource, not only for future generations, but also for us, as writers, who may need to undertake research for our next book project (whether that’s traditionally published or self-published). Every book deposited is a book available for researchers. Your self-published book could help a future author with their book.

If you’re unsure whether the British Library has a copy of your book, simply search British National Bibliography database, which lists all books published since 1950.

Supplying Six

In addition to the British Library, there are five other libraries who have the right to ask for a free print copy of your book too. They are:

  • Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford,
  • Cambridge University Library,
  • National Library of Scotland,
  • National Library of Wales,
  • Trinity College Library, Dublin.

The Legal Deposit Libraries Act entitles these five libraries to request a free print copy from publishers within twelve months of publication.

‘Whilst not collecting as comprehensively as the British Library,’ Andrew explains, ‘the five other legal deposit libraries are entitled to request copies of newly published books, and they employ an agent to administer this process on their behalf. These deposit libraries must make their initial request for print copies within twelve months of publication. Beyond this timeframe they are not entitled to do so.’

Effectively, publishers must provide one copy of every book they publish in print format to the British Library, and be prepared to supply a further five print copies to the other deposit libraries if requested to do so. Most traditional publishers automatically supply six copies and, as Andrew Davis explains, self-publishers are encouraged to do the same.

‘The joint collection policy across the six UK legal deposit libraries is to collect six copies of each print publication in the UK, and self-published authors fall within this policy. In practice, many publishers send legal deposit copies to the Agent prior to a request being sent, and we would actively encourage UK based self-published authors to send five copies to the Agent as well as to the British Library before being sent a request.’

On a practical note, self-publishers only need to send two parcels — one, containing a single copy of their print book to the British Library Deposit Office, and one containing five print copies to the agent for the other deposit libraries.

Penalty Process

If a publisher fails to supply a copy of their book, the act allows the library to apply for a court order forcing the publisher to provide one. If the publisher is unable to do so, the court can then require the publisher to pay any costs incurred by the deposit libraries in obtaining copies.

Favoured Formats

According to the Act, ‘the copy is to be of the same quality as the best copies which, at the time of delivery, have been produced for publication in the United Kingdom.’

In other words, if a publisher produces a book in hardback and paperback, then it is not required to supply one copy of each format, just one copy of the best format, which in this example would be the hardback.

But as Andrew explains, this best format does not apply to the other five deposit libraries.

‘In respect of printed books, the British Library is entitled to the best available format, hardback if available. The five other deposit libraries are entitled to the format which is the most widely available, paperback in most cases. No deposit library requires multiple formats of the same work.’

This does not mean that self-publishers have to produce a book in hardback. If a self- publisher only publishes in paperback format, then that is the best format, and so that’s what needs to be supplied to the British Library. But if an author were to self- publish in both hardback and paperback, then it’s the hardback edition that the British Library requires.

Digital Deposit

On 6th April 2013, the Legal Deposit Libraries Act was updated to include electronic books.

‘Legal Deposit regulations now extend to e-books as well as printed books,’ says Andrew. ‘Self-publishers are able to upload digital copies via a dedicated submission portal link.’

The benefit of this submission portal is that electronic books uploaded to it are automatically distributed to the other five deposit libraries, so you only need to make one electronic submission.

Before you go about uploading, it’s necessary to register with the Publisher Submission Portal first so that the British Library can undertake some checks. This portal has been designed for publishers producing fewer than 50 books a year, making it ideal for most self-publishers. Once successfully registered, self-publishers can log on and submit a copy of their electronic book.

Self-published authors who publish in both print and digital format should register with the British Library’s Publisher Submission Portal as soon as possible because, as Andrew clarifies, once registered, self-publishers will no longer need to supply a print copy of their book, just a digital copy.

‘In depositing an e-book self-publishers meet their legal deposit obligations to all deposit libraries and there is no need to deposit print equivalents with any of the libraries.’

Therefore, if you publish in print and digital format and you’re not registered for digital deposit then your legal duty to supply a print copy of your book still applies. But once registered, you’ll only need to supply a digital copy of your books, no matter in how many formats you produce your books.

Irrespective of whether a self-publisher produces solely in print format or digital format, every new edition of a book needs to be provided, whether it merely contains corrections to the first edition, or more substantial amendments and additional content.

Even though publishing has changed considerably over recent years, making it easier for writers to self-publish their books in many formats, we still have a responsibility to abide by a law first introduced nearly 360 years ago.

And while it may be a legal duty to honour this instruction, as writers we should take pride in the fact that our books are being retained as part of the nation’s literary heritage, alongside those of our most famous writing predecessors.

Many self-published authors donate copies of their books to their local public library. All the Legal Deposit Libraries Act is asking us as author-publishers to do is to donate a copy of our book to the world’s largest library.

Business Directory

British Library Legal Deposit: 

Depositing Digital Publications (and information about the Publisher Submission Portal): 

Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries:

Legal Deposit Libraries Regulations 2013: 2013/777/contents/made

Guide to Using the British National Bibliography: british-national-bibliography

(c) Simon Whaley