Modern times require compilation of electronic publications

Electronic publications such as e-books and digital magazines are valuable assets for the intellectual activities of the public. It would be a natural step to review the legal deposit system to adapt it to the digital era.

Under the legal deposit system, the National Diet Library is supposed to collect and store all books and magazines published in Japan. This is because publishing companies are obligated by law to submit their publications to the library.

However, the emergence of electronic publications was not envisioned when the National Diet Library Law was established in 1948.

In 2013, free e-books and other publications became subject to the legal deposit system, and starting Jan. 1, revisions to the law require publishers to submit to the library electronic publications that they sell to the public.

According to the Research Institute of Publications, sales of electronic publications in Japan in 2021 are estimated at ¥466.2 billion, an 18.6% increase from the previous year. This accounts for nearly 30% of the total publishing market, including paper-based publications.

An increasing number of books and magazines are sold only in electronic formats, but such publications could become inaccessible if electronic bookstores stop selling them or system failures occur.

Preventing electronic publications from being scattered and lost, and properly preserving them is a new challenge that has arisen with the progress of digitization.

The National Diet Library preserves the publications it receives as the common property of the people and passes them on to younger generations, allowing users to view them. The library is also expected to play a central role in collecting electronic publications and maintaining bibliographic data.

Some in the publishing industry have expressed concern that if electronic publications are submitted to the library, the contents could be leaked to outside parties via the internet, possibly infringing on copyrights.

In operating the new system, the National Diet Library has restricted access to electronic publications to terminals set up within the library, and has also made it impossible for multiple people to access one work at the same time. The publications available on the Diet library’s website are said to be limited to those for which the copyright holders have given permission for this.

The legal deposit system cannot be maintained without trust between the library and publishers. Both sides must continue discussions to make the system even better. It will also be important to be aligned with electronic publication storage systems that publishers’ organizations maintain on their own.

The library is already collecting web information of online materials of public organizations. It is also calling for cooperation from private universities, political parties and other organizations to collect such information.

Materials on the websites of private companies and on sites for posting novels and other works may also become subject to the legal deposit system as items that must be preserved because of their value in reflecting the times. Continued deliberation is needed over what to collect from among the abundance of online information.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 10, 2023)