Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

OCLC fighting OA to bibliographic data

There's been a dust-up lately over a policy change announced by the Online Computer Library Center for the terms of use for WorldCat, the union catalog of bibliographic records contributed by OCLC member libraries.

It's disputed whether OCLC provides OA to the full WorldCat data: Open Library's Aaron Swartz says it doesn't; OCLC's Karen Calhoun says it does.

The new Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records supercedes the earlier Guidelines for the Use and Transfer of OCLC-Derived Records, last revised in the pre-Web era. (Karen Coyle points out that the Guidelines were themselves a response to an earlier attempt by OCLC to claim copyright in WorldCat records. The new policy avoids the term copyright, but does make an oblique reference to "the intellectual property rights [in WorldCat or WorldCat Records]".) The new policy is slated to go into effect in February 2009.

Aside from the name change (from "guidelines" to "policy", implying enforceability), key points of the new policy include prohibitions on commercial or "unreasonable" use. (An earlier version of the policy also required attribution to OCLC in each record re-used; in the latest version, the attribution requirement has been weakened to a recommendation.) The "reasonableness" standard is summarized as:

Use must not discourage the contribution of bibliographic and holdings data to WorldCat or substantially replicate the function, purpose, and/or size of WorldCat.

The restriction has drawn the ire of Open Library, which is building an OA bibliographic catalog. (In a blog post, Open Library's Aaron Swartz also claims that OCLC has "been trying to kill [Open Library] from the beginning -- threatening its funders with lawsuits, insulting it in the press, and putting pressure on member libraries not to cooperate.")

See this page on the code4lib wiki of links to commentary on the changes (including defenses by OCLC), and Aaron Swartz's petition against the changes.

See also our past post on OA to bibliographic data, or all post posts on WorldCat (especially the Open WorldCat project) and Open Library.