Many first-time authors are surprised to learn that Legal Deposits are in fact a requirement that is written into law in many countries… and as a self-publishing author, the responsibility for submitting your Legal Deposit copies falls squarely on your shoulders, as do the consequences for non-compliance.  To make sure that you don’t fall foul of the law here is a basic primer on what you need to know about Legal Deposits. 


What are Legal Deposits & Why Do We Have Them?

Legal Deposit is basically the system by which all published works are catalogued and stored in a central location.  This ensures that published intellectual works are preserved for future generations and become part of the national heritage.  Deposited publications are made available to visitors of the central deposit libraries to view and read on the premises, which allows unprecedented access to rare and out of print material.  Publications are also recorded in online catalogues created an essential research resource for future generations.


History of Legal Deposits Within the UK

The Legal Deposit system dates back to 1610 when Sir Thomas Bodley obtained a written agreement from the Stationers’ Company to permit the library that he rebuilt at the University of Oxford (The Bodleian Library) to claim a copy of everything printed under royal licence.  The agreement was then extended in 1662 to include the Royal Library and the library at the University of Cambridge.  In 1709 the concept of the Legal Deposit was enshrined in UK law as part of the Copyright Act signed by Queen Anne.

When the British Museum and its Library were established in 1753, they were also added to the list of Legal Deposit libraries.  In 1801, that list was further extended to nine libraries in total; however, this was then reduced back down to five: The British Library, the Bodleian, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland and Trinity College, Dublin.  The National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth was later added to the list in 1911 to comprise the six Legal Deposit libraries that we have today.


How to Comply with Legal Deposits Legislation in the UK

As a self-published author, you must provide one copy of every print publication you produce within one month of its’ official publication date.  This needs to be sent to the Legal Deposit Office at the British Library free of charge.  The copy deposited must be “of the same quality as the best copies which, at the time of delivery, have been produced for publication in the United Kingdom” according to the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003.  You can find details of where to send your initial Legal Deposit copy here.

At the point of publication, this is your only ‘legal’ requirement.  The other five Legal Deposit libraries then have one year from the date of publication to request additional copies – usually issued via the Agency for the Legal Deposit Libraries.  If you should receive a request for additional copies, that request then becomes legally binding.  You can find details of where to send your additional Legal Deposit copies here.

What You Need to Deposit

The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 applies to the following categories:

  • Books (including pamphlets, magazines or newspapers)
  • Sheet music or letterpress
  • Public maps, plans, charts or tables
  • New editions of existing publications which may contain corrections, amendments or additional content.

What You DON’T Need to Deposit

You are not required to deposit the following types of works unless a written demand for them is made by a Legal Deposit library:

  • Reprints of publications already deposited, where no changes have been made
  • Internal reports
  • Examination papers
  • Local transport timetables
  • Appointment diaries
  • Wall and desk calendars
  • Posters.

What if my publication doesn’t have an ISBN?

If your publication does no bare an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) or ISSN (International Standard Serial Number) but it has been published, you are still obligated to submit a Legal Deposit copy.

The requirement to deposit a publication does not depend on it being allocated an ISBN number, but on whether it can be considered published – when copies of it are issued to the general public.  The place of publication or printing, the nature of the imprint or size of the distribution of that work is irrelevant.  It is the act of making a publication available to the public within the United Kingdom that renders a work liable for Legal Deposit.

What if my publication is in electronic format only?

Electronic publications are also governed by Legal Deposit regulations.  If your publication is not available in a printed format for deposit in the above fashion, the British Library has several methods for submission depending on the medium or format of the publication and the number of publications you produce per year.  You can find more information about digital Legal Deposit submissions here.


Legal Deposits Outside of the UK

It is worth noting that the Legal Deposit system is not restricted to just the United Kingdom.  Most major countries have their own Legal Deposit guidelines and regulations, and legislation can and often does vary from country to country.

For example:

  • Canada requires that two copies of each work be deposited within 7 days of publication
  • Germany requires that in addition to a copy that is to be deposited with the German National Library, you are also required to submit an additional two copies to the federal repository of the state in which the work was published
  • In Hong Kong, the time allowance for Legal Deposits to be made is one month
  • Monaco states that if a publication produced fewer than 100 copies you must deposit two copies to the state library, otherwise 4 copies are required for deposit
  • In Portugal, publishers are required to deposit 11 copies of all publications
  • In the United States, the Legal Deposit requirement also extends to the US government in which the Government Publishing Office is required to submit copies of all publications to over 1,250 federal depository libraries across the country.

Be sure to research what the Legal Deposit regulations are in your country before your book is published to ensure that you can comply with any and all regulations.


So, there you have it; a birds-eye overview of the Legal Deposit system and how you can be sure that your books and publications remain compliant.  If you have any questions about Legal Deposits or want to share your experience with the Legal Deposit system, please do drop it in the comments below.


If you liked this blog and want to be the first to hear about new content that we publish? Sign up to our monthly newsletter to receive blog posts, special offers, and self-publishing news straight to your inbox.