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Legal deposit refers to the legal obligation of any editor, printer, producer, or importer of certain material to provide copies of that material to the National Library of France (referred to as BnF) or one of several other authorized organizations.  Anyone who knowingly fails to comply with his/her legal deposit obligation may be prosecuted and could face a fine.  For works that are normally published in a physical format, the BnF may require the deposit of an electronic file as a substitute for the physical copy of the document.  This seems to be uncommon, however, and the standard procedure is that a physical copy of the work be deposited. Sound recordings and videos may be deposited in digital format at the BnF, and publicly-released movies must be deposited with the National Center for Cinematography and Motion Picture in two copies, including one in digital format.  As for electronic publications and internet content, they have been subject to legal deposit in France since 2006.  The BnF principally relies on automatic archiving of Internet websites and electronic books via a “crawler-bot” software.

I. Introduction: General Principles of Mandatory Deposit in France

Legal deposit (dépôt legal) refers to the legal obligation of any editor, printer, producer, or importer of certain material to provide copies of that material to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France, referred to as BnF) or any other authorized organization.[1]  France’s first legal deposit law was a 1537 ordinance by King Francis I, which required printers and booksellers to provide the Royal Library with a copy of every printed book published or made available in France.[2]

The types of material that are subject to legal deposit are listed in the Code du patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Code) as “printed documents, graphic works, photographs, recordings, audiovisual works, and multimedia works, regardless of their method of production, edition or dissemination,” if they are made available to the public.[3]  Software and databases are also subject to legal deposit if they are made publicly available, as are “signs, signals, writings, images, sounds, or messages of any kind communicated to the public by electronic means.”[4]  Depending on the nature of the work, material subject to legal deposit must be provided to one of the following institutions: the BnF, the Centre national de la cinématographie et de l’image animée (National Center for Cinematography and Motion Picture, or CNC), and the Institut national de l’audiovisuel (National Audiovisual Institute).[5]

Anyone who knowingly fails to comply with his/her legal deposit obligation may be prosecuted and could face a fine of up to €75,000 (approximately US$88,890).[6]  It is important to note that copyright protection is not linked to legal deposit.[7]  Indeed, copyright protection in France stems directly and solely from the creation of the work, with no procedural requirement necessary.[8]  However, the fact that an item was deposited, and/or the date of the deposit, may be used as evidence in copyright litigation.[9]

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II. Digital Deposit of Non-Digital Works

Normally, material subject to mandatory deposit at the BnF must be “of perfect quality and identical to the copies in circulation.”[10]  However, the BnF may instead require the deposit of an electronic file as a substitute for the physical copy of the document.[11]  The manner in which an electronic file may be deposited in lieu of a physical copy of the document is subject to the depositor’s agreement.[12]

It appears that the default medium for deposit to the BnF is still the work’s physical copy.  The BnF’s online instructions on the deposit of books does not mention an option other than the delivery of a physical copy.[13] The same instructions even specify that books published in both electronic and paper formats must be deposited in both media, as “one type of deposit is not a substitute for the other.”[14]  Similarly, the BnF’s instructions for the deposit of periodicals,[15] cartographical documents,[16] sheet music,[17] and graphic works (prints, photographs, posters, postcards and greeting cards, calendars and almanacs, stickers, playing cards, and “any other production related to the graphic arts”)[18] do not mention any option to deposit these material in digital form.

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III.  Digital Deposit of Videos, Sound Recordings, Multimedia Works, and Movies

Sound recordings and videos may be deposited in digital format.[19]  However, they must always be submitted in a medium that allows the public to see them, and with any password or other information necessary to access them.[20]  Similarly, software and databases must be submitted in a medium that allows their use, and with any password or other information necessary for use or access.[21]

Cinematographic works that are meant to be shown in movie theaters must be deposited with the CNC.[22]  Other movies on a photochemical medium (i.e., film), particularly movies made for purposes of information, training, or promotion, are also to be deposited with the CNC if at least six copies have been produced for viewing by an audience.[23] For most movies subject to deposit with the CNC, two copies must be provided: one in a photochemical medium, and another in digital format.[24]  The digital copy must be provided on an unencrypted hard disk or USB key.[25]

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IV. Digital Deposit of Internet Websites and E-Books

Electronic publications and internet content have been subject to legal deposit in France since 2006.[26] 

A. Internet Archiving

Internet legal deposit applies to “all types of publications disseminated on the internet: institutional or personal websites, free or paid-access periodicals, blogs, commercial websites, video platforms or digital books.”[27]  In principle, everything that is published on the internet in France is subject to legal deposit.[28]  In practice, this means that the legal deposit obligation applies to websites registered under a “.fr” top-level domain, and to any website edited by persons or organizations domiciled in France.[29]

Contrary to legal deposit of traditional printed works and other non-internet-based material, legal deposit of websites does not require any action on the part of their editors.[30]  Instead, the BnF principally relies on automatic archiving via an open-source “crawler-bot” software called Heritrix.[31]  This automatic archiving proceeds through a sampling method based on “criteria aimed at ensuring the best possible representation” of content.[32]  It appears that the BnF conducts two types of website collecting.  The first consists of bulk automatic harvesting to collect “snapshots” of websites belonging to the French domain.[33] The second type consists of focused crawls based on a selection of sites and centered on a particular event (such as a particular election), or a given theme (such as “blogs, sustainable development, Web activism”).[34]  If content is found to be inaccessible at the moment of capture—whether for technical reasons (such as password-protected contents) or commercial reasons (such as paid-access or subscription-based content)—the BnF may contact the website editor to find technical solutions on a case-by-case basis.[35]

The Heritage Code requires that internet content be collected “at least once a year.”[36]  The BnF’s website states that “several collection sessions occur throughout the year,” and that “each year, several million sites are thus captured, to a depth determined in advance (of the order of a few thousand files per website).”[37] 

B. Electronic Books

The BnF does not collect electronic books (e-books) individually, but rather collects them through their publishing websites during its regular website harvests.[38]  An e-book’s publisher therefore does not have to take any specific action for the legal deposit to take place.[39]  Since the BnF cannot guarantee that its collecting efforts will be exhaustive, however, publishers may proactively communicate the URLs of their e-books to the BnF.[40]

As mentioned above, books published in both electronic and paper formats must be deposited in both media.[41]  In other words, when a book is published both in electronic and physical formats, the fact that it was published as an e-book (and therefore would presumably be collected by the BnF during a website harvest) does not relieve the editor or publisher from the duty to deposit a physical copy with the BnF.

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Prepared by Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Specialist
July 2018


[1] Dépôt légal [Legal Deposit], Bibliothèque nationale de France [BnF] [National Library of France] (Aug. 10, 2016), http://www.bnf.fr/fr/professionnels/depot_legal.html, archived at https://perma.cc/7UAG-8W4W.

[2] Peter Stirling et al., The State of e-Legal Deposit in France: Looking Back at Five Years of Putting New Legislation into Practice and Envisioning the Future, 38(1) IFLA Journal 5 (Mar. 1, 2012), http://journals.sage pub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0340035211435323, archived at https://perma.cc/3SAR-CU4X; Robert Estivals, Le dépot légal sous l’ancien régime de 1537 a 1791 [Legal Deposit Under the Ancien Regime, from 1537 to 1791] at 1 (1961).

[3] Code du patrimoine [Cultural Heritage Code] art. L131-2, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCode. do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006074236, archived at https://perma.cc/NFP7-ZBPS.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. art. L132-3.

[6] Id. art. L133-1.

[7] Michel Vivant & Jean-Michel Bruguiere, Droit d’auteur et droits voisins [Copyright and Similar Rights] 258 (2016).

[8] Code de la propriété intellectuelle [Code of Intellectual Property] art. L111-1, https://www.legifrance. gouv.fr/affichCodeArticle.do;jsessionid=3E54245E490E8BC5823BF217B7A24C44.tplgfr23s_2?idArticle=LEGIARTI000006278868&cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006069414&dateTexte=20180509, archived at https://perma.cc/72FP-YUCZ; Laure Marino, Droit de la propriété intellectuelle [Intellectual Property Law] 184 (2013).

[9] Vivant & Bruguiere, supra note 7, at 258.

[10] C. patrimoine art. R132-8.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Dépôt légal des livres [Legal Deposit of Books], BnF (July 6, 2017), http://www.bnf.fr/fr/professionnels/depot_ legal/a.dl_livres_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/AN9U-6WNK.

[14] Id.

[15] Dépôt légal des périodiques [Legal Deposit of Periodicals], BnF (Mar. 29, 2017), http://www.bnf.fr/fr/ professionnels/depot_legal/a.dl_periodiques_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/UF99-5FBJ.

[16] Dépôt légal des documents cartographiques [Legal Deposit of Cartographical Documents], BnF (May 23, 2016), http://www.bnf.fr/fr/professionnels/depot_legal/a.dl_doc_carto_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/8AQU-WU5X.

[17] Dépôt légal de la musique imprimée [Legal Deposit of Sheet Music], BnF (May 31, 2016), http://www.bnf.fr/ fr/professionnels/depot_legal/a.dl_musique_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/VFB6-UB82.

[18] Dépôt légal des documents iconographiques [Legal Deposit of Iconographic Documents], BnF (Feb. 16, 2016), http://www.bnf.fr/fr/professionnels/depot_legal/a.dl_estampes_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/BH4T-HJ84.

[19] Dépôt légal documents sonores [Legal Deposit of Sound Documents], BnF (Apr. 10, 2017), http://www.bnf.fr/ fr/professionnels/depot_legal/a.dl_doc_son_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/DXM4-TSBA; Dépôt légal des vidéogrammes [Legal Deposit of Videograms], BnF (Apr. 12, 2017), http://www.bnf.fr/fr/professionnels/depot_ legal/a.dl_videos_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/4WB9-EEUT.

[20] C. patrimoine arts. R132-21, R132-22.

[21] Id. arts. R132-13, R132-14; Dépôt légal des documents multimédias, logiciels et bases de données [Legal Deposit of Multimedia Documents, Software, and Databases], BnF (June 29, 2017), http://www.bnf.fr/fr/professionnels/ depot_legal/a.dl_doc_multimedia_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/8ANS-DQCZ.

[22] C. patrimoine art. R132-26.

[23] Id. art. R132-30.

[24] Id. art. R132-28-1; Démarches: dépôt légal [Procedures: Legal Deposit], CNC (website of the French National Center for Cinematography and Motion Picture), http://www.cnc.fr/web/fr/demarches/-/editoriaux/61564 (accessed on May 10, 2018), archived at https://perma.cc/YUB6-AL6F.

[25] Démarches: dépôt légal, CNC, supra note 24.

[26] Stirling et al., supra note 2, at 6; Loi n° 2006-961 du 1er août 2006 relative au droit d’auteur et aux droits voisins dans la société de l’information [Law No. 2006-961 of 1 August 2006 Regarding Copyright and Related Rights in an Information Society] art. 39, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000 266350&dateTexte=&categorieLien=id#JORFSCTA000000900122, archived at https://perma.cc/4V8E-TSFK.

[27] Dépôt légal des sites web [Legal Deposit of Websites], BnF (Feb. 13, 2018), http://www.bnf.fr/fr/professionnels/ depot_legal/a.dl_sites_web_mod.html, archived at https://perma.cc/G38E-QV5C.

[28] Stirling et al., supra note 2, at 8.

[29] Dépôt légal des sites web, BnF, supra note 27.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Digital Legal Deposit: Four Questions about Web Archiving at the BnF, BnF (Mar. 23, 2017), http://www.bnf.fr/ en/professionals/digital_legal_deposit/a.digital_legal_deposit_web_archiving.html, archived at https://perma.cc/E7P2-55W6.

[34] Id.

[35] Dépôt légal des sites web, BnF, supra note 27.

[36] C. patrimoine art. R132-23-1.

[37] Dépôt légal des sites web, BnF, supra note 27.

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Id.

[41] Dépôt légal des livres, BnF, supra note 13.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020