Collecting Digital: Legal Deposit extended for the National Library

If you have tried to visit the homepage for the 2000 Sydney Olympics in the last couple of years, been frustrated by a broken link in a blog post, or gone looking for documents from a government department that no longer exists, then you will be all too aware that the internet is not permanent.

And this causes headaches for the institutions that are charged with archiving, preserving and making accessible Australia’s culture and heritage.

Physical works published in Australia must, by law, have a copy deposited with the National Library.  This ensures that there is a comprehensive record of Australia’s cultural heritage, preserved for the people of Australia. However since the Act was written in 1968, the format of materials has moved from purely physical form.  Books are now published as e-prints, magazines are delivered directly into inboxes and newspaper articles come with embedded autoplay videos. Unfortunately, the legal deposit legislation had not kept pace with this change.

The changes to the Copyright Act that passed the parliament last week address this gap.

In introducing the bill the Attorney-General Senator Brandis QC stated:

The bill reflects the government's commitment to better equip Australia to meet the needs of industry and consumers in the digital age… the amendments to the Copyright Act will allow the National Library of Australia to collect not only our print history but also our digital history.

This extension to the Library’s ‘Legal Deposit’ scheme means that the library can now archive Australia’s digital content alongside more traditional published works.  Guidelines as to how people can deposit their works have been developed in conjunction with industry and the Attorney-General’s Department, and we understand they will be published shortly on the National Library Website.

As Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus QC noted:

Labor welcomes the introduction of this particular scheme, this electronic deposit scheme, which will bring the National Library's operations up to date with modern technology and make the deposit scheme both more expansive and more efficient. It is of obvious importance that the large amount of Australian cultural output now produced in digital form be preserved by the National Library.

The long-anticipated extension to legal deposit will support the library sector’s web archiving and digital preservation efforts. And hopefully the successful implementation at national level will drive an update in those states whose legislation is similarly stuck in the analogue age.

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