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…