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This report, prepared by the staff of the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress, surveys laws regulating the mandatory legal deposit of electronic materials.  Fifteen countries representing different approaches to collecting, describing, preserving, and storing digital and non-print documents and providing access to them are included in the study. (See map, below.) These countries were selected because of their long-term experience with collecting online and offline electronic publications. Each country survey provides information on the history of e-deposit programs in the country, identifies the national institutions charged with collecting and preserving electronic materials, analyzes the legal framework for depositing digital materials, lists the requirements applicable to publishers of such material, and describes the measures taken to bring e-deposit programs in line with the restrictions established by national copyright laws. Where applicable, details of the web harvesting process are also described. Laws regulating the legal deposit of physical copies of print publications are outside the scope of this report, although in some cases such laws are mentioned where they address issues associated with e-deposit. 

All countries included in this study have laws regulating mandatory, voluntary, and pilot programs aimed at collecting and preserving online and digital publications and born-digital materials. Legal deposit is mandatory in all of the surveyed countries, except for the Netherlands and Italy.  While e-deposit programs can be traced to 1999 when Dutch publishers concluded their first agreement with the National Library of the Netherlands on depositing electronic publications with a Dutch imprint at the Library, and the National Library of New Zealand began selectively harvesting websites, most countries developed their e-deposit programs in the last ten to fifteen years. (See timeline, below.)  Since then, the surveyed countries require that publishers and producers of digital and online publications provide a required number of copies to the National Library (Australia, Estonia, France, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain); to national archives and government agencies in charge of protecting the country’s documents (Canada, China); the parliamentary library (Japan); or to a network of libraries, including academic institutions (United Kingdom).

Most of the surveyed countries place the responsibility for depositing e-materials on publishers or producers of electronic documents, establishing precise rules for delivering these materials to the designated repositories. Some countries establish a time frame for mandatory deposits. Canada and Germany require that materials subject to e-deposit be provided to the designated libraries within one week after publication.  This period is extended to twenty days in New Zealand, and cannot exceed one month in Australia and the United Kingdom.  In China, a sample copy of an electronic work must be sent to the National Library and is archived even prior to publishing. A violation of these rules is punishable by fines (see, e.g., Estonia, France, Spain).  

While most of the countries require e-deposit to be conducted by publishers for free, regulations in Japan, Netherlands, and South Korea allow publishers to be reimbursed for the expenses associated with the deposit of electronic publications.

The majority of the surveyed countries extend the e-deposit requirement to websites, online publications (including born-digital works), and digitized copies of print materials.  The United Kingdom allows a print version of a work otherwise subject to legal deposit to be substituted with a digital copy.  Some countries specify that sound, visual, and audiovisual resources are recognized as digital materials, to be deposited together with other e-publications.  Estonia and France define separate rules for depositing movies. 

Software and databases constitute an interesting segment of digital materials when it comes to their preservation and deposit. France and Netherlands demonstrate two different approaches. While French law specifically identifies software and databases as subject to legal deposit, the Dutch National Library does not collect applications (apps), games, and databases, as they frequently change.

Most of the countries surveyed have established their electronic deposit programs for the purpose of preserving the national culture in digital format, and thus focus on collecting digital materials that pertain to the national culture. As a result, deposit requirements in these countries typically apply to materials published inside the country, or outside of the national borders if the publisher or domain owner is a permanent resident of the country (Australia, Spain), or materials that specifically target the country’s population (Norway).  The German National Library goes even further, collecting “all media works that are published abroad in the German language and translations of German works published abroad, as well as works about Germany published in other languages.” 

As a rule, private websites and online materials, information from listservs, and works for a limited audience are excluded from legal deposit requirements (Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Spain).  The Estonian National Library refuses to collect live streaming and web publications with an unreasonably large amount of data. Data limits for deposited files have been introduced in many of the surveyed countries.  Films and recorded sound materials are excluded from deposit requirements in the UK. Technology is a distinguishing factor in Japan when a decision is made as to whether a website should fall under e-deposit requirements.  If a Japanese website has restricted access and special technology is needed for access, such website is exempt from mandatory deposit. 

Regular web harvesting is also conducted in the majority of the countries researched.  Websites that fall under the country’s domain code or those sites whose hosts can be identified as physically located inside the country are typically collected for preservation. The Dutch National Library emphasizes that it “selects websites that are innovative, popular, or relevant to the Dutch society.” The national Library of France does not collect electronic books individually but instead regularly harvests them from publishers’ websites.  Once collected, access to all deposited materials depends on the commercial and copyright status of a publication.  The repository is typically responsible for ensuring access and implementing any necessary restrictions. 

The laws and regulatory documents of all countries surveyed state, in one form or another, that the goal of maintaining an e-deposit system is to permanently preserve the national digital heritage.

Prepared by Peter Roudik
Assistant Law Librarian of Congress for Legal Research
July 2018


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Last Updated: 12/30/2020