When it comes to the business of writing, there’s an action all UK self-publishers have to undertake, thanks to a law that has its origins in the 17th century.

Legal Deposit, as it is officially known, legally requires publishers to send a copy of every book they publish to the British Library within 30 days of publication.

In addition to the British Library, the Legal Deposit Libraries Act also allows five other deposit libraries across the UK and Ireland (National Library of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford, Cambridge University Library and Trinity College Library Dublin) to each ask for a single copy of every print book a publisher produces. (They have to make this request within 12 months of publication.)

On 6th April 2013, the Legal Deposit Libraries Act was amended to allow the Legal Deposit Libraries to request a copy of all electronic books published.

Many writers I’ve spoken to were unaware that this legal requirement applies to self-published authors here in the UK. The act does not merely apply to the traditional publishers (Penguin, Hatchette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan), but to every publisher, including self-published authors.

Anyone who publishes a book that is available to the UK public should adhere to the Legal Deposit Libraries Act! (This includes writers’ groups publishing anthologies, too.) Even books that don’t have an ISBN should be supplied to the British Library.

If you only publish in print (either hardback or paperback — if you produce both, the British Library requires the hardback only) then you should supply a print copy to the British Library. 

Even if you only publish in electronic format, the British Library still requires an electronic copy.

Usefully, though, if you register to supply electronic copies to the British Library, and you publish both print and electronic formats, you won’t need to supply a print copy — only the electronic copy.

Even better, supplying your electronic copy to the British Library means that they automatically distribute it to the other five legal deposit libraries in the UK and Ireland.

The British Library has created the Publisher Submission Portal, which is aimed at publishers who publish fewer than 50 books a year — perfect for most self-publishing authors.

Registering is easy.

Go to Publisher Submission Portal

Click on the Register button in the bottom right.

Complete the User Registration Form, and then click Register at the bottom of the page.

You’ll then see a confirmation message appear.

(You may then receive an email asking you to confirm your email address. Click on the link provided within the email.)

The British Library will carry out some checks and then (assuming everything is okay) enable you to upload your new books to their portal.

It’s important that all publishers do this, including self-published authors, because the British Library is responsible for collating the nation’s literary heritage, and our self-published books are part of that heritage. Just like all the other books in the British Library, these become available to researchers now and years into the future (when our physical books may be out of print).

So enjoy the moment when you self-publish your book. But don’t forget your legal responsibility as a publisher under the Legal Deposit Libraries Act!

Legal Deposit

3 thoughts on “Legal Deposit

  • October 21, 2020 at 4:43 PM

    Yikes! I wonder what the legal position is with print on demand services like Blurb? There must be plenty of books out there which have only one copy published – for the creator themselves. Yet technically these can be bought by anyone visiting the Blurb site*

    * = other publishers are available 😉

    • October 21, 2020 at 5:04 PM

      Hi Michelle,

      Yes, if it’s print on demand then it has been published and is available to the UK public. The size of print run does not influence whether a book should be deposited.

      There’s lots for self-publishers to think about!


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