Legal deposit for ebooks

A number of countries have enacted legislation intended to preserve their literary heritage, requiring publishers to deposit a few copies of their titles with an organization designated by the law for this purpose. This organization – usually the National Library – is then responsible for receiving, archiving and allowing access in perpetuity to the works.

Over time, lawmakers amended the legislation to include digital works stored on computer media (e.g., a CD-ROM or USB key). The advent of the ebook has prompted new reflection on the topic, and we have followed, with interest, the ways in which Libraries are addressing this issue.

We recently did a little research on ebook copyrighting practices in a selection of countries.

Here are a few general observations:

– Legal deposit is required for printed books in all cases.
– In rare cases, the Libraries are ready to accept digital versions for legal deposit and have put a clear process into place. In many cases, however, legal deposit is not required and remains a voluntary process.

– Formats accepted for archiving are usually ePUB, PDF, HTML or XML, while files in proprietary formats (such as Mobi) are not accepted.

– In many cases, an ebook published on a physical medium (CD-ROM, USB key, etc.) is submitted for electronic document legal deposit, which also covers items such as computer programs and audio books.

– Legal deposit for print titles also applies to print-on-demand books, although the publisher is generally only required to deposit the title if the print run exceeds a specific minimum.

– Many Libraries also make an effort to archive websites; the work (a harvesting operation) is done using web crawling software.

Following is an overview of the practices currently in effect, in a few countries, for copyrighting books that exist only in digital form (i.e., no physical medium).

Germany | mandatory legal deposit for ebooks | Legal deposit for new electronic publications has been mandatory since 2006 (for previous years’ publications, the practice is voluntary). The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek archives PDFs, ePUBs and HTMLs submitted by German publishers.

United Kingdom | Pilot project underway | British legislation was adapted in April 2013 to cover ebooks; however, legal deposit for ePUBs remains voluntary. The British Library is conducting a pilot project that will end in late 2014, at which time legal deposit would be mandatory for all publishers.

Australia | Voluntary deposit | In its present form, the country’s Copyright Act does not cover ebook legal deposit; a nationwide consultation is currently underway, and publishers can send their files to the National Library for archiving if they so wish. Some Australian states opted to make this a requirement without waiting for the end of the consultation process.

Spain | Adoption of legislation underway | Since July 30, 2011, Spanish legal deposit law has covered ebooks on tangible (physical) media, but the question of intangible ebooks has yet to be addressed. The royal decree for copyrighting this type of book is currently awaiting approval.

France | Legislation covering the Internet also applicable to ebooks | Legal deposit for on-line or downloadable digital publications is not done on a per-unit basis, but through the website on which they are disseminated. The terms and conditions are those of Internet legal deposit, as set out in the country’s Code du patrimoine (Heritage code).

At the same time, a few publishers in Italy are participating in a voluntary legal deposit pilot project that will run until late 2014. In the United States, ebook legal deposit is only mandatory when formally requested by the Library of Congress. In Canada, Library and Archives Canada requests automatic legal deposit of electronic publications.

Incidentally, UNESCO produced a framework document in 2000 to help national libraries with their legal deposit process. For those who are interested, PDF versions of the Guidelines for legal deposit legislation are available in English, French and Spanish.


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