The Copyright Act 1968 requires all publishers to lodge a copy of every printed book to the National Library of Australia (NLA) and their relevant state library. This is called legal deposit. Print on demand is considered a form of print and thus legal deposit is required. ‘Published’ simply means ‘made available to the public’ (regardless of whether it is free or at a cost).

Electronic publications (that have no physical form, such as ebooks, though not those distributed on physical media like CDs) are not covered by the current Act, and this means that legal deposit is not required for them, though it is being planned for.

In March 2012 the federal Attorney General’s department released a consultation paper that recommends that legal deposit be extended to cover all electronic publications. In theory this is a sensible proposal. In practice, however, it is ludicrous. Taken literally, it would require the NLA to archive everything published on the internet in Australia. This is likely to be impossible.

The proposal addresses this by suggesting that the archiving of online publications be ‘on demand’ rather than automatic, in other words that some publishers would be told to provide legal deposit copies (presumably based on their relevance).

Returning to the present, because legal deposit includes print on demand books, anyone making one through services like Blurb Australia or any other Australian (or Australian based subsidiary of a foreign) publisher must provide legal deposit copies to the National Library of Australia and their relevant state library, in my case the State Library of Victoria (SLV).

I am sure that most users of such services (and the businesses themselves) are not aware of this legal requirement, which is usually known about only by people who work in publishing. This law is an archaic remnant of the industrial age, where only media corporations published books. This is of course no longer the case. Thousands of people in Australia are likely to have broken the law without knowing it.

The only mention of legal deposit on the Blurb website of is a user generated question in a forum. Given that companies like Blurb facilitate the creation of self-published books, they may have some legal liability in this regard. It surprises me that they do not provide advice and link to the relevant NLA information.

In a print run of thousands of copies, with dozens set aside to be given away as marketing and promotional copies, giving two free copies to the state is a trivial undertaking. For individuals experimenting with self-publishing, it may be more onerous.

Many self-publishers are unlikely to make money from their creative efforts, and the cost of printing copies for the state is an unreasonable imposition. This point is made by the Australian Copyright Council in its April 2012 submission to the Attorney General’s consultation paper. Google’s response is also worth reading.

Some time ago I made a couple of print on demand books for family members containing family and travel photos. They were well received and I enjoyed making them, but they were private and I did not consider that they were a publication as such as they were not available to the public. I therefore did not make legal deposits for them.

Now I’m planning to do a book about Fitzroy and I want to sell it to the public. This introduces a significant problem, because all book publishers are required by law to provide legal deposit copies, but I don’t plan on wasting money printing books for legal deposit.

Some years ago I refused to allow Fitzroyalty to be indexed by the NLA’s Pandora project that archives electronic publications because they failed to satisfy me that their method, which involved making a static copy of a dynamic site and republishing it, would not undermine the traffic to my original live site. They seemed to have no idea of the implications of their activities for search engine optimisation.

I would welcome the archiving. It is the publishing of the inferior static archive in direct competition to the live dynamic original that concerns me. The NLA had nothing to say about this and they clearly did not understand the technical or conceptual issues involved. They demonstrated themselves to be fundamentally incompetent.

I’m equally unimpressed now to find I am expected to pay money to meet the requirements of a law I consider to be irrelevant. Electronic publications are currently not subject to the law, meaning that I can publish and sell an ebook in Australia or elsewhere without paying what is effectively a tax to the state. But I want to make a book that is available as an ebook and by print on demand.

The solution seems to be to publish it outside Australia, because books published outside Australia are not bound by this law. This effectively means that if a self-publisher wants to produce a print on demand book lawfully in Australia without being forced to waste money printing two copies for legal deposit, they should use an off-shore publisher like the Blurb US parent company.

This again is ludicrous. This law has undesirable unintended consequences. It is anti-competitive in that it encourages self-publishers to publish off-shore. It drives money and work out of the country.

The law is rarely enforced. I once worked for an educational publisher that was not aware of its existence (though they were incompetent) and I had to organise a deposit for dozens of books from recent years. Although you can be fined $100 for not providing legal deposit copies, I’ve never heard of a fine being issued. The issue is of monitoring compliance – the NLA is usually not aware of publications it has not collected.

What is amazingly stupid about this is that almost all books are by origins electronic – that is they are typeset on computers and are delivered to printers via PDF. Why doesn’t the NLA ask for the electronic file and print its own archive copies? Then it would cost publishers nothing to comply with the law.

I hearby inform the NLA and the SLV that I consider the law pertaining to print on demand and ebooks to be inconsistent and anachronistic and I will not obey it. When I make my book, I will not be supplying legal deposit copies. If the NLA wants a copy of the print on demand version, it can buy its own. It can have an electronic copy, but only in the format I produce it in (Blurb’s proprietary software) or they can buy the iPad ebook.

By all means make a law for commercial publications of a considerable scale, such as any publication that sells more than 1000 copies. But don’t burden every information age self-publisher, who may sell only 50 copies of their book, with the regulatory framework of the industrial age.

I have emailed the NLA and SLV asking for their comments on this article and for them to answer a number of questions. I will publish a follow-up post should I receive anything. If the response is anything like the one I got regarding Pandora, I doubt it will be worth publishing…

legal deposit and other archaic laws vs the future of publishing: ebooks and print on demand

7 thoughts on “legal deposit and other archaic laws vs the future of publishing: ebooks and print on demand

  • 9 January 2013 at 4:23 pm
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    Hello – I noticed a few flaws in your argument and thought in the interest of good vibrant discussion I might point a few things out from the librarian perspective…

    ‘This law is an archaic remnant of the industrial age, where only media corporations published books.’

    — This is not true. All you need to do is include local histories in your thinking and you can start to see exactly why this ‘obligation’ is in place. These are important research pieces that should be preserved and shared.

    — Also it’s not a law as you keep stating but more of an obligation as I understand it.

    ‘In a print run of thousands of copies, with dozens set aside to be given away as marketing and promotional copies, giving two free copies to the state is a trivial undertaking. For individuals experimenting with self-publishing, it may be more onerous.’

    — Well consider what you get in return… the exchange you are making is for 1. Preservation of your work. 2. Metadata. 3. Availablity to libraries and underprivileged sections of the community who might otherwise not have the ability to access your wonderful well written and excellently researched work.

    ‘Some time ago I made a couple of print on demand books for family members containing family and travel photos. They were well received and I enjoyed making them, but they were private and I did not consider that they were a publication as such as they were not available to the public. I therefore did not make legal deposits for them.’

    — You don’t have to. The National Library collects some titles published this way using the library’s collection developement policy as a guide. Your holiday snaps do not fall under this guide no matter how wonderful they are. An excellent example of a unique Australian publication that might have been lost if it wasn’t picked up by a national collection institution was on rescue robots – the only one of it’s kind published in Australia at the time. The author simply didn’t consider it worthy of a wider audience.

    ‘Some years ago I refused to allow Fitzroyalty to be indexed by the NLA’s Pandora project that archives electronic publications because they failed to satisfy me that their method, which involved making a static copy of a dynamic site and republishing it, would not undermine the traffic to my original live site. They seemed to have no idea of the implications of their activities for search engine optimisation.’

    — A static site that is for research purposes. Simply a ‘snapshot’ – useful to web designers and historians, for example. An excellent example is the 2000 Olympics website – people can go back and look at it as it was. Why would it need to be live? Pandora archiving a static snapshot of a site would in no way undermine a live dynamic functioning blog or affect its existing or any future readership in anyway. To state anything else is absolutely manufactured drama.

    ‘The NLA had nothing to say about this and they clearly did not understand the technical or conceptual issues involved. They demonstrated themselves to be fundamentally incompetent.’

    – Oh they do understand – my bet is they just don’t waste time arguing their case. It’s a simple yes or no to them and they get on with their job – which I’m sure you can understand.

    ‘I’m equally unimpressed now to find I am expected to pay money to meet the requirements of a law I consider to be irrelevant. Electronic publications are currently not subject to the law, meaning that I can publish and sell an ebook in Australia or elsewhere without paying what is effectively a tax to the state. But I want to make a book that is available as an ebook and by print on demand.’

    — In this case it is you who is missing out… on 1. Metadata 2. Promotion of your material to libraries all around Australia that might be interested (not to mention across the world since records from Libraries Australia are also available to libraries overseas via OCLC WorldCat!)… two highly valuable things that would add significance to your work that you couldn’t buy… even with two copies of your wonderful publication.

    ‘This again is ludicrous. This law has undesirable unintended consequences. It is anti-competitive in that it encourages self-publishers to publish off-shore. It drives money and work out of the country.’

    — For the cost of 2 copies. TWO COPIES. In exchange for libraries all over the country and the world finding out about it and perhaps ordering more? Hmmm. Cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face much?

    ‘What is amazingly stupid about this is that almost all books are by origins electronic – that is they are typeset on computers and are delivered to printers via PDF. Why doesn’t the NLA ask for the electronic file and print its own archive copies? Then it would cost publishers nothing to comply with the law.’

    — So what you’re saying here is we should indeed have ELECTRONIC LEGAL DEPOSIT?

    Looking forward to discussing this further.

    R.

    Reply
    • 10 January 2013 at 3:52 pm
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      You are wrong about the legal status of legal deposit. I have clearly stated, based on the information published by the NLA, that it is a legal requirement.

      You completely miss the point about the problem of Pandora publishing a static archive of a dynamic live site. If you don’t understand the technical issues you can’t have a valid opinion on this.

      Most self published books are of marginal interest and never make any money. I would argue that is is not primarily about marketing but quality – most are not very good and the tangential marketing offered by libraries is of little use to self publishers.

      Electronic legal deposit at the NLA’s expense, not the publisher’s expense, is what I propose.

      Reply
  • 21 January 2013 at 3:37 pm
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    On the requirement of submitting ebooks for Legal Deposit: it is voluntary in every state except WA, where LD is ‘mandatory’ (like you said, who gets fined for this anyway?). Just got this from the horse’s mouth in Canberra.

    The LD laws are under review, and will likely change as politicians slowly wake up to the fact that there are devices called ‘ebook readers’ which are becoming rather popular.

    I thought I’d drop a comment here as info about this is very thin on the ground and this is the highest-ranked commentary page on the subject.

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    • 21 January 2013 at 4:03 pm
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      Why are you people incapable of reading? Legal deposit is mandatory as per the Copyright Act s201.

      Reply
      • 31 January 2013 at 7:09 pm
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        Perhaps you should call the CiP department in Canberra, because that is what they are telling people who call.

        Reply
        • 31 January 2013 at 7:15 pm
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          Why would I bother doing that? It’s not my problem if the CiP staff at the NLA can’t understand the legislation and don’t read the information on their own website.

          Reply
  • 14 May 2013 at 11:28 am
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    Legal Deposit may be mandatory but no one in Australia has ever been prosecuted or fined under the LD provisions of the Copyright Act by the NLA. The NLA and the state libraries appreciate that their ability to impose the situation on ebook self-publishers is impossible, they don’t try. It is the same with respect to zines (http://blogs.nla.gov.au/the-eloquent-page/category/zines/) or artists’ books, which for many intents and purposes operate in the same space from the perspective of LD. Libraries can read the law, but as with many laws their it comes down to their application. All deposit libraries are selective about how they acquire material, so very local (suburban) material such as school newsletters aren’t collected by the National Library; although they are covered by the LD provisions, they are outside the collection development policy (http://www.nla.gov.au/content/collection-development-policy-australian-collecting). The LD provisions are wide enough to enable the laws to be less format specific and more flexible, but it is not intended as an impost. Yes, these laws were formed in Britain around the Stationers Co et al. and may seem anachronistic, but they have moved with the time and they aren’t trying to be an impost on small publishers.

    With respect to PANDORA, all listings of archived websites clearly state up front that the current version of the archived website (which is linked and comes before the listing of each of the archived versions) is the most up to date and that each iteration that is archived is snapshot at that point in time. Given the relevance ranking of PANDORA I can’t imagine that it would come up before the original site, but even if it did, it is very clear that the current version is the one they can link to first up.

    The proposed changes to the copyright provisions largely relate to whole of domain harvests, which they have already got the USA-based Internet Archive to do on their behalf (http://www.nla.gov.au/content/preservation-intent-web-domain-harvests) a couple of times. The Internet Archive, via their Wayback Machine, had already been undertaking domain harvests previously, so they may already have a snapshot of your blog.

    Reply

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