Legal deposit is the statutory obligation to deposit at least one copy of every UK publication, free of charge, at the British Library and other designated deposit libraries.
This obligation has existed in English law for printed books and papers since 1662 and for electronic and other non-print publications since 6 April 2013.
It helps to ensure that the nation's published output — and its intellectual record and published heritage — is collected systematically. This preserves the material for the use of future generations and makes it available for readers within the designated deposit libraries.
These libraries are:
- The British Library, London
- National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
- Bodleian Library, Oxford
- Cambridge University Library
- Trinity College, Dublin
- National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.
Benefits for authors and publishers
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.
Legal deposit in the UK is governed by the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 and the Legal Deposit Libraries (Non-Print) Regulations 2013.
There are also reciprocal arrangements for printed publications with the Republic of Ireland under its Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000.
The Joint Committee on Legal Deposit, comprising representatives of all main stakeholder groups, advises on the implementation of these laws in the UK, and supports a process for resolving any disputes or disagreements that might occur.