Skip to main content

By law, a copy of every UK print publication must be given to the British Library by its publishers, and to five other major libraries that request it. This system is called legal deposit and has been a part of English law since 1662.

From 6 April 2013, legal deposit also covers material published electronically, so that the Legal Deposit Libraries can maintain a national collection of e-journals, e-books, digitally published news, magazines and other types of content.

When is deposited content made available?

Under legal deposit, websites and deposited electronic publications are not accessible for at least seven days after they are deposited or harvested. After then, they may be made available to users of the Legal Deposit Libraries.

Where is deposited content made available?

The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 defines a reader as “a person who, for the purposes of research or study and with the permission of a deposit library, is on library premises controlled by it”, and the Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print Works) Regulations 2013 set out the terms on which works may be displayed for readers “on library premises controlled by the deposit library”.

This means that deposited works may not be made available online externally, including for readers logging in remotely. They can only be viewed on the premises of the six deposit libraries defined in clause 14 of the Act and, for legal publications, the library of the Faculty of Advocates.

The Secretary of State has confirmed that “these Regulations do not unreasonably prejudice the interests of persons who publish works to which these Regulations relate”. Relevant considerations include the scope (i.e. number and spread) of locations in which deposited material may be used, and the security arrangements governing access in those locations. In connection with these, if in future any change is proposed that a member of the Joint Committee on Legal Deposit regards as unreasonably prejudicing publishers’ interests, the Joint Committee will discuss the proposals in accordance with the dispute resolution process and, if appropriate, ask the Secretary of State to review the Regulations.

Can online users outside the library search the library catalogues for deposited content?

Yes, online users are able to search catalogue records and identify deposited content, but the content itself is only accessible within the premises of the Legal Deposit Libraries.

How is deposited content made available?

The 2013 Regulations stipulate that “A deposit library must ensure that only one computer terminal is available to readers to access the same relevant material at any one time”. This is not intended to restrict the use of all legal deposit material to a single computer terminal in each deposit library, but rather to displaying the same individual work on just one screen at a time—i.e. for one reader at a time—within each Legal Deposit Library.

For handheld publications, concurrent access is suitably restricted by the physical medium on which it is carried, such as a CD-ROM, memory card or microfilm.

For other electronic publications, the demarcation of an individual work or “same relevant material” will normally be determined by the manner in which it is published for users, and received on deposit. For example an electronic book may be published either as a single work, or chapter by chapter. Where relevant material is published – and therefore harvested or deposited – as a single composition, the deposit libraries will not deconstruct it into separate elements for the purposes of displaying the parts on different screens for more readers to use it. Equally, where relevant material is published at a more granular level, the deposit libraries will not aggregate the separate elements in order to construct an artificial work. For example, concurrent access in the case of an electronic journal that is published as a single issue containing a number of articles would be controlled at the level of that issue; but concurrent access for an electronic journal that is published on an article by article basis would be controlled at the level of an individual article.

Where the demarcation of “same relevant material” is not immediately apparent, the deposit libraries will construe it as the file or group of files needed to communicate a particular subject matter in a complete, cohesive and intelligible way, subject to a technical means of delineating this. For web-based material, this would normally mean the web page (such as a news article) that would be displayed when the user follows a link or enters a URL. This would include embedded (“transcluded”) content that displays within the same tab or window as its contextual material. But an embedded or linked file whose content, when opened, displays in a separate tab or window would normally be treated as a separate item.

Can library users copy deposited content?

Digital copying is not permitted.

The regulations permit users to print out one copy of a reasonable portion of any deposited work, for non-commercial research or other defined purposes such as criticism and review or journalism; extra copies may be printed for use in court proceedings or statutory enquiries.