MP joins fight to save e-texts for posterity

March 14, 2003

A private member's bill will be introduced today to change legislation on the national archiving of publications to incorporate non-print material.

This follows a campaign led by the British Library to bring the law up to date with new publishing developments.

Chris Mole, MP for Ipswich, is set to introduce the bill to ensure that electronic or e-publications and other non-print materials such as websites are saved as part of the published archive.

The revision to the Copyright Act 1911, if successful, will ensure that non-print formats are included within legal deposit, allowing UK businesses and education to benefit from access to the widest possible collections of research material.

The British Library, the legal deposit libraries, the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, University Library, Cambridge, Bodleian Library, Oxford, and Trinity College Library, Dublin have been able to collect copies of all printed material published in the UK. But an increasing amount of material is published in electronic formats only and falls outside the scope of the 1911 act.

A large increase in online publications is forecast by the most recent study to be carried out on the subject. This includes a near quadrupling, from 52,000 to 193,000, in the number of electronic journal issues published in the UK between now and 2005.

The British Library estimates that more than half of the electronically delivered publications and about a quarter of "hand-held" publications such as CD-Roms are not being received by the legal deposit libraries.

Non-commercial publications, including the 2.96 million .uk websites, add enormously to this number.

Stephen Bury, head of European and American collections at the British Library, led a six-month research project on website archiving. He said that an increasing number of PhD theses referred to websites as primary sources.

"For example, Geoffrey Rivett continually updates and revises a history of the National Health Service, which is purely online and is well used by doctoral students. There are also sites of historic and cultural importance that are in danger of disappearing, such as those on the petrol blockade," he said.

A voluntary scheme administered by the Joint Committee on Voluntary Deposit comprising representatives from the legal deposit libraries and the four main publisher trade bodies has saved many non-print items since 2000.

Now the government agrees that legislation is needed and should be generic to ensure that new formats and information carriers are included within legal deposit - through orders in council - as they become widely used.

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