Legal Deposit: The What and Why
By Preflight Books

What is it?

A legal deposit is a legal obligation that every content creator and publisher must fulfil. One to five copies of all publications, whether it be printed books, e-books or audio-visual material like films, must be sent to a place of legal deposit (the National Library of South Africa).

Why do we need it?

The purpose of a legal deposit is to collect, preserve and have documents available to present and future users. These documents contain cultural and intellectual heritage from the country. Therefore, the legal deposit is the pillar of every person’s right to freedom of information.

As a country, there are moral obligations to fulfil towards mankind as a whole. These are:

  • Ensuring that everything that the country has produced is recorded (in compliance with UNESCO/International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Programme of Universal Bibliographic Control).
  • Ensuring that one copy is available for consultation by scholars, possibly from all over the world.

This does not mean that only the country benefits from having legal deposits. As a creator and publisher you also benefit because:

  • There will always be a copy of the work and it will be available for research purposes.
  • It has the potential to make all users of the National Library aware of what has been published or produced.
  • The deposit promotes the distribution and sales of works by alerting national and international users.
  • It is a valuable source of business information to the book trade since it forms the basis of international book production statistics by UNESCO.

The amount of copies of your printed book you need to send as a legal deposit depends on your print run. For print runs of 99 and under, only one copy needs to be sent as a legal deposit. For print runs of more than 99, you need to send five copies of the book as a legal deposit, one to each of the National Libraries of South Africa.

Now you know!

At Preflight Books, we take care of all this for you! Should you have any more questions, feel free to contact us.


PASA | Publishers’ Association of South Africa

NLSA | National Library of South Africa

Preflight FAQ

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