Legal deposit and your photo book

28 March 2019

Region: Headquarters

Did you know that up to six free copies of a print-on-demand photo book could be demanded by libraries? This is called Legal Deposit.

Legal Deposit is a centuries-old procedure whereby any new publication should be deposited with a state archive for preservation, so that the material is accessible for posterity. Many countries have this, and it's part of copyright law.

In the UK, the main such archive is the British Library, and they are entitled to a free copy of any book, magazine, pamphlet and such like that is produced in the UK and is available to the public. A further five copies (one each) can be demanded by the National Libraries of Wales and Scotland, by Oxford and Cambridge University libraries and by Trinity College Library in Dublin. These five are handled centrally by an agency in Edinburgh.

What triggers this requirement? The law says "publication" and while this is mostly announced by an ISBN (or ISSN) being allocated, that isn't necessary. The deposit agencies say they research new publications as well.

This could be problematic if you produce a print-on-demand (POD) photo book (using suppliers such as Bob Books and Blurb) and sell it or even give it away. Doing this via your own web site, or even just a local book shop, could trigger a request from the libraries. If your print run is large then you are probably already allocating a few copies for publicity so six for the libraries is a minor imposition. However, with POD you may be paying of the order of £50 for each copy to be digitally printed and in that case you would need to allocate a budget of a few hundred pounds. I suspect many photographers producing POD books are not aware of this.

While the libraries still prefer print copies, they are starting to accept electronic ones, if the publication is issued electronically as well as (or instead of) in hard copy. This is handled by the British Library, who then supply the other libraries. Their system can currently only accept PDF and EPUB format, not Kindle.

Other countries also have legal deposit, and there's a Wikipedia page which goes through some of them. (My favourite factoid is that France has a legal deposit scent and fragrance archive called the Osmothèque.)

For more information on the scheme in the UK, the National Library of Wales has a good web page as does the British Library, which also includes links to the legislation. The BL have also produced a guide to their collecting framework which is available as a PDF and covers their digital plans.

Andy Finney is the Society representative on the British Copyright Council and a specialist in infrared photography. The image on this page is of the Kings Library and is courtesy (and copyright) of the British Library.