Legal delays have blown a hole in UK's digital heritage

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If it is information on the health of medieval women or the battle of Trafalgar you require, then the British Library is a pretty good place to look. But those wanting to shed light on more recent events or discoveries recorded online could be in trouble.

Digital literature, online scientific research and internet journalism that should have been saved in the nation's main libraries over the past five years may have been lost because ministers have failed to give them the legal power to copy and archive websites, the Guardian has learned.

Senior executives at the British Library and the National Library of Scotland (NLS) are dismayed that legislation giving them the right to collect online and digital material is still not in force, more than six years after it was passed by parliament.

The omission has meant the libraries – which are legally required to archive books, newspapers and journals – have failed to record online coverage of major events such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the release of the Lockerbie bomber and the MPs' expenses scandal.

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