Legal Deposit

New: Audiovisual Legal Deposit register

Policy Guidelines for the Legal Deposit of Sound and Audiovisual Recordings

1. Background

Legal deposit is a statutory provision, widely applied across the world, which places a legal requirement on producers of publications to deposit their works in designated institutions. Although legal deposit requirements have historically been applied to printed publications, sound and audiovisual recordings are considered of equal importance to printed material as part of the cultural and intellectual heritage.

2. Purpose

Materials acquired through legal deposit serve three related, but distinct, purposes. It enables the collection and preservation of all published works of a given country for the benefit of current and future research; it ensures that published materials will be available to users when it is no longer possible to acquire them in other ways; and it provides a means of compiling the national bibliography of published material.

3. Criterion for deposit

Since the purpose of legal deposit is to maintain a national archive of publications, the criterion for deposit should be the publication of the item. A work is considered to be published when:

  • copies of the work are offered to the public for sale or hire or for distribution with or without charge, or
  • the work is broadcast to the public, or
  • the work is performed before an audience in a place which is open to the public, or
  • a copy of the work is made available, for payment or otherwise, through a technology enabling the public to read, view, hear or otherwise use or consult the work in whole or in part.

4. Key principles for the legal deposit of published sound and audiovisual recordings:

  • comprehensiveness - provision should include all recordings irrespective of carrier, whether films, video, television and all forms of sound recordings.
  • notification - publishers should be required to deposit all published catalogues of their product with the repository.
  • no exemptions - no organisation or body which publishes sound and audiovisual recordings should be exempt.
  • enforcement – legal deposit arrangements should be formulated in full cooperation with publishers and repositories, and enforced through legislation (including as a last resort, the imposition of penalties), rather than through voluntary provisions.
  • no payment - materials should be deposited at no cost to the repository.
  • number of copies - publishers should be required to deposit one or more copies of each published item, sufficient to enable both preservation and access, to a single repository designated as the appropriate location.
  • selection - repositories should have the discretion to reject material offered for deposit in specific cases where the expense of preservation outweighs cultural importance, or in the case of some broadcast music material which may duplicate recordings already held.
  • time of deposit  - publishers should deposit materials within a defined time period soon after publication.
  • materials of required standard - material should be deposited in good condition. Where identical products are issued on parallel formats, the repository shall be entitled to determine which is more appropriate for deposit.
  • continued possession of materials - the repository shall have the right to uninterrupted possession of physical materials deposited.
  • the right to copy - the repository shall have a limited right to make copies of deposited material to support the functions of preservation and access.
  • technical protection measures – publishers shall ensure that materials deposited do not have technical  measures (e.g. passwords or encryption) that prevent access or preservation copying by the repository.
  • the right to show or play material - the repository shall have the right to provide free public access on its own premises to deposited material.

5. Responsibilities of repositories

Repositories which are assigned the privilege of legal deposit may be national libraries, museums, archives or other state or official institutions. Repositories accept responsibility for the publications and for meeting required standards of  long-term storage, maintenance, preservation, bibliographic control and public use facilities. The costs of caring for the legal deposit publications in places of deposit will be borne by the organisations which maintain them.

6. Funding of repositories

The ongoing costs of the maintenance of the national legal deposit archive should be taken into account when the designated repositories receive grant–in-aid from the appropriate public funding bodies.

7. Ownership of publications

Items deposited under the provisions of legislation become part of the collections of the designated repository whose responsibilities are to preserve  the items and make them available, appropriately, for research purposes. Inalienable ownership of the items should be vested in the repository: this would not alter the copyright protection in force.

Selected references

  1. Larivière, Jules (2000). UNESCO Guidelines for legal deposit legislation
  2. Harrison, H. P. “Legal issues in audiovisual archives”. IASA Journal. 6 (November 1995). pp. 40-44. (and see
  3. IFLA Statement on Legal Deposit (2011):
  4. British Library (1998). Report of the Working Party on Legal Deposit, Appendix A (ii), Appendix A(iii)
  5. European Convention for the Protection of the Audiovisual Heritage [concerns moving images only]


Prepared by the IASA National Archives Section Committee. Updated October 2016.