OCLC’s proposed new guidelines for the transfer of bibliographic records

OCLC, today has made available their proposed new policy for the transfer of bibliographic records.  You can read the documents for yourself:


I took a sometime this morning to read through the proposed changes as well as the FAQs, and essentially OCLC is looking for a way to tell libraries that they don’t own the data that’s in their own catalogs.  In essence — this is what this policy comes down to.  The policy wraps some very nice changes for non-members into the statement in order to hide some really sucky changes that I don’t believe that they have the ability to ask for or enforce.  And OCLC has some real balls here, because starting in Feb., records downloaded from OCLC will potentially include a license statement.  Per the FAQ:

  • Prospectively. As of the effective date of the Policy, every record downloaded from WorldCat will automatically contain field 996 populated with the following:

    996 $aOCLCWCRUP $iUse and transfer of this record is governed by
    the OCLC® Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records.

    There is no need to add the 996 field to records by hand. OCLC systems will do this for you.

  • Retrospectively. For records that already exist in your local system, we encourage you to use the 996 field, which should have an explicit note like the examples below:
    996 $aOCLCWCRUP $iUse and transfer of this record is governed by
    the OCLC® Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records.

    You have got to be kidding me.  By adding this statement to the records in your catalog — you are essentially giving away your institutions ownership rights to your records (at least, this is how I read it).  This has wide implications — as how you use the data within your catalog would no longer be at your discretion.  And how does this affect the Library of Congress — because this license statement applies to all records with an OCLC number.  If LC puts an OCLC number in their records — well, by this agreement — they too will have to ensure that records made available from their catalog will only be used for non-commercial purposes.  And I wonder what happens to member libraries and remove this field after February, 2009.  I ask because I’d recommend any library that downloads records from OCLC to remove this statement from their records. 

    So what’s at stake long term here — the ability to develop network level discovery services (or in OCLC’s case, make sure that they are the only game in town).  Libraries need to remember that OCLC is both a company that created and supports a cooperative catalog as well as a burgeoning vendor trying to corner the library network discovery landscape.  And what OCLC has going for them is the WorldCat database that has been created by publicly funded institutions (like the Library of Congress, universities and public libraries).  In the past two years, OCLC has seen LibraryThing and the OpenLibrary begin to develop competing network-based services by having libraries contribute their own data back to these efforts.  By claiming exclusive rights to this community created metadata, OCLC is essentially monopolizing the network discovery landscape.

    In many ways, I see similarities to what OCLC is doing here to AT&T and Microsoft of the 90s.  AT&T was sued as a monopolist by the government because they essentially owned all the telephone lines and were able to squeeze out competition because of that ownership (even though, much of the infrastructure was created with public money on public land).  Likewise, Microsoft was sued as a monopolist because they were illegally stifling competition by utilizing API’s within the Windows operating system to create a competitive advantage for their software.  MS Office worked better on Windows than competing products because Microsoft wrote the OS — so they knew how to get the greatest level of performance.  This is what’s happening here — but at the metadata level.  OCLC has a large database of information that it has been entrusted by member organizations — and essentially OCLC is building a business unit around it.

    At this point, I see a lot of similarities between what Microsoft was doing in the 90’s and what OCLC is attempting to do now.  OCLC’s policy here is all about giving OCLC an unfair competitive advantage when it comes to creating the next generation cloud services — and anything that they say differently is a bunch of BS.  OCLC wants to claim that it owns the metadata created, in large part, by public funds by member institutions around the world.  And at this point, OCLC is very much becoming a predatory monopolistic organization, and I think as members, it might be time to tell OCLC that they need to be broken up.  This was done during the AT&T trial and was considered during the Microsoft Monopoly trial — but in order to level the playing field here — membership should consider insisting that OCLC decouple it’s work with WorldCat with the networked based services that it’s looking to build.  When AT&T was broken up, a number of new companies were born.  This is what needs to happen here.  And it’s something that needs to happen soon as the library community’s ability to develop the next generation of networked based services depends on it in my own opinion.


    Updated: OCLC did post a revision to this document on Nov. 5th. There were some significant changes to the document. I’ve added my comments regarding this revision here: archives/582

    1. I agree with your concerns.

      One positive, though, is that (I think!), the new policy makes it clear that sharing records with the Internet Archive (non-profit) IS allowed. I think. Would you agree?

    2. Actually, I don’t think that it does because the other part of the agreement is that the activity must not discourage members from adding records or holdings to the WorldCat database. You could easily make an argument that the Internet Archive’s work underminds WorldCat’s value by putting the data completely within the public domain. Which is too bad because I think that the work that they are doing is the type of innovate that OCLC should be encouraging. But so long as their business unit is tied to the WorldCat metadata — I doubt this would be encouraged.


    3. Perhaps libraries, especially the large academic libraries, should create original records on the local system and then simultaneously upload them to OCLC, LibraryThing, and Open Library. OCLC can’t control records before they have entered WorldCat. I am sure libraries can think of other ways to push back if the terms of record usage are unacceptable to them.

    4. That would certainly be an idea. Maybe someone from Code4lib can come up with a slick interface for something like that because it would have to be easily integrated into workflows — especially in large academics where technical services departments are becoming much smaller.

    5. In addition, perhaps libraries uploading original records might add their own 996 field with a competing open use policy statement, acceptance of which by OCLC implying consent. I am not sure if it would hold up legally (I am not a lawyer), but it might be a worthwhile act of protest and would not be hard to put into records.

    6. Terry, the links in your post mix references to the 1987 policy and the faq for the updated policy.
      So, Guidelines for the Use and Transfer of OCLC-Derived Records (1987) is located at: ; the Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records (2008) is located at: ; and the FAQ associated with this updated is as you list it, located at . I would encourage you and the various others who’ve commented to re-read both the existing policy and the updated policy and the FAQ. Neither the 1987 policy nor the 2008 update, for example, places restrictions on what a library may do with its own original cataloging. The updated policy reflects longstanding practice within the OCLC cooperative to have common guidelines that govern individual members’ reuse of records that have been created by other members and made available through WorldCat. As reflected in the 1987 Guidelines and before, it has been longstanding practice to impose some minimal restrictions on the use of WorldCat records by non-member libraries, archives, and museums, etc. and to prohibit commercial use of WorldCat records (except where such use has been specifically authorized — OCLC has made very limited exceptions for commercial use; The appearance “Find this book in a library” links in Google Book Search being the product of one carefully negotiated exception, for example). On the matter of embedding a link to the policy and requiring the retention of an OCLC record number, this practice parallels requirements which are part of popular copyleft licenses such as the Creative Commons and GNU General Public License (used by Wikipedia). The Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records is not intended as a stifling burden to the community, but as an updated expression of community rules of good practice that have been embraced by the OCLC community for many years. OCLC believes the update to the 1987 policy simplifies, clarifies, and modernizes community guidance on a wonderful community-built and -maintained asset, WorldCat. The update to the Policy has been paired with an improved process for OCLC to receive requests from parties that want to make non-Policy-compliant use of WorldCat records. The intent is to be generous in granting exceptions for uses that are consistent with the overall intent of the Policy. OCLC recognizes the value of having a wide-ranging dialogue on important issues like the Policy so many thanks for taking time to post your thoughts.

    7. Eric,

      Thanks for pointing that out – I had both sets open and must have grabbed the wrong window. However, I have read this document a number of times, and I do respectfully disagree. I’ve sent questions privately to a few people at OCLC specifically about the FAQ’s because the changes are significant in terms of what users are being allowed to do. And let’s give a good example. OSU and a number of members of our consortia decided that we would provide the Open Library copies of our metadata. Under this new agreement, that would be a violation of the new policy because it could be argued that the Open Library project undermines the value of the WorldCat database.

      But what we have here is OCLC looking to claim ownership over metadata within WorldCat and outside of WorldCat – and I don’t believe that this is something that they can do. If OCLC wants to limit the download and use of metadata of it’s database to members – that’s fine – but OCLC cannot dictate how libraries utilize or share that metadata once it’s been moved within their local systems – especially retroactively. It wasn’t too long ago that OCLC tried to create a policy that would have made it impossible for member libraries to make their metadata available via Z39.50 – but the membership pointed out that this was unacceptable and the policy was dropped. When I first created MarcEdit to include Z39.50 access, I was contacted by OCLC requested that I limit the Z39.50 functionality so that it didn’t become a free Bookware like program (and while I didn’t have to, I agreed). In a sense, this is happenning again. Just take a look at the FAQ section under the Z39.50 section. Essentially, the FAQ says that any library not provide attribute is in violation of this policy. I’m sorry, but since when putting metadata into WorldCat and using metadata from WorldCat become like a software EULA – where we simply are leiseing the metadata back for our library – because that’s essentially what the FAQ’s here are saying. Maybe that’s the relationship that OCLC would like to have with it’s membership – but I’d be surprised if many members felt that this arrangement would be ok.

      In terms of embedding a link within the records – again, we are going to disagree. For public institutions – our metadata is public domain. LC’s catalog – public domain. OSU’s catalog, we would consider public domain. Please explain to me how adding a statement of attribute that includes limits to record usage make this metadata more open. At present – libraries and vendors that are not OCLC members and contributors can go to academic institutions or the Library of Congress and pull metadata for their institution or products. What OCLC is doing here is taking that option away, and personally, I don’t believe that they have that right.

      Of course, this goes back to the end of my post. I believe that it’s about time for OCLC to be broken up. OCLC is really an organization with two faces. On the one hand, there is the part of the company that works for the membership. This is the group that does WorldCat, facilitates ILL, etc. Then, there’s OCLC the vendor that is creating WorldCat Local, Navigator, making arrangements with Google on behalf of the consortia. My impression of these changes is that many of these are much more advantagous for OCLC the vendor – rather than OCLC as a membership organization. The OCLC membership actually isn’t harmed by researchers or commercial entities that: “substantially replicates the function, purpose, and/or size of WorldCat, for example for the purpose of providing cataloging services to libraries or other organizations? – rather, it’s OCLC the vendor corpoation that is injured.


    8. Eric,

      One more thing. When you talked about copyleft licenses and attribution (and using Wikipedia as an example) when you say:
      >>On the matter of embedding a link to the
      >>policy and requiring the retention of an
      >>OCLC record number, this practice parallels
      >> requirements which are part of popular
      >>copyleft licenses such as the Creative
      >>Commons and GNU General Public License
      >> (used by Wikipedia)

      That had bothered me but I couldn’t put my finger on why until I had stepped back and was making dinner. The reason why Wikipedia and many of these resources utilize these copyleft licenses is that they make their applications, metadata and content available for download. I could, if I wanted to, download all the information from Wikipedia and utilize for a number of purposes — including commercial I believe, so long as I make all my changes to content/program available back to the Community. Now, if OCLC was talking about making its database and applications available for downnload in total from OCLC — then I don’t think I’d have the problem with the attribution within the OCLC dataset. However, this isn’t what OCLC is talking about. They are talking about records downloaded from members, who have paid for those records and contributed back others, having artificial restrictions placed upon them that really only protects just OCLC and their position as the largest bibliographic library community.


    9. Thanks for this analysis of the OCLC policy – it was very helpful in understanding it better.

      What do you think would have to happen for OCLC to split itself up in the manner that you suggest? Will it take legal action or just a collective complaint from member libraries? I imagine that they’ll be very resistant to the idea, so some instigating event will be necessary and I’m curious what you think that event would be.

    10. I think it does not matter what OCLC says they will allow right now and that their intent may be benign. What they are achieving (intentionally or not) is to assert their right to be the decider on any use of the records. If they can require us to ask permission for one use now, another group of corporate leaders can change the terms later.

      Although this is labelled a “policy” it is of course a license and asserts the right to ownership and control based on value added. I think that OCLC and the Board may truly believe that this protection of WorldCat is for the good of the “cooperative”, the membership and its long-term investment. I hope that after this consultation period they will realize that, as Terry points out, the membership may have other ideas about what our investment in OCLC means and the benefits we seek.


    11. Gretchen,

      I think that OCLC could be broken up by the will of the membership honestly, if that was a direction that the membership was willing to entertain. We do this all the time in academia — I can’t believe that it would be that difficult to achieve within OCLC. Of course, that is assuming that the membership still has the ability to set OCLC direction — which it may not at that level — I don’t know.


    12. Dan,

      Thanks for the archived link. I was hoping that someone would have snatched it before it was taken off line.


    13. To OCLC’s credit here, they are reviewing the policy which I think is a good thing. And while OCLC and I will likely continue to disagree on a number of different things (I for one believe that an Open WorldCat is the best way to ensure that libraries get the best value from the consortia and do have big philosophical problems with OCLC’s dual role as both the gatekeeper of the Library Commons [OCLC WorldCat] and their role as library vendor) I’m hopeful that OCLC will listen to it’s members concerns and make some changes to this policy.

      I’ve had the opportunity to speak to a couple of people from OCLC today, and from my perspective, there are really two big issues that need to be fixed.
      1) The 996 — in my opinion, this is a deal breaker. This isn’t simply a statement of attribution, but is a statement of use and transfer — and statement that can be changed and updated. If OCLC is really concerned with making sure that records are protected, they should utilize a GPL license and be done with it. Essentially, OCLC public says that they want to protect the community’s investment. Well, the GPL does that — and would have the benefit of making the data available to anyone that wanted to use it.
      2) The non-compete clause (Section B.12.b). This statement, read broadly enough, applies to both commercial and non-commercial uses of the data and affects the library communities ability to innovate outside of OCLC.

      It’s really too bad that these two elements made it into the policy. While I obviously question the need for such a policy (as I say, I think that an Open WorldCat would give library’s the most value), and certainly have issue with OCLC wanting to become a defacto 3rd party in any negotiated use of my library’s metadata, the revisions as they were did indeed provide fairly liberal use of the metadata for research and non-commercial purposes, including the API. For example, this policy wouldn’t preclude a library from creating and sharing an open source WorldCat Local interface.

      At the same time, I think that it’s healthy for the library community to have these discussions. OCLC is a member organization — we should tell them where we want them to go as an organization. And if we don’t like their direction — we should help them fix it.

      Finally, at some point, I’d like to sit down and explore in a posting what it would mean to break up OCLC. I’m a firm believer in a diverse ecosystem of solutions — and at this point, OCLC really has become the only game in town. No matter what happens with this policy, I think that this singularity of solutions, as we presently have with OCLC, isn’t healthy for spurring innovation and I’d like to sit down and think about what it might mean to separate OCLC the vendor from OCLC the Library Commons.


    14. Hey Terry, I see a new feature in MarcEdit configuration. If checked, then every record you save with MarcEdit has a 996 added saying “all data added to this record by {institution} is licensed to the receiver under an Open Data license. {url}.”

      Sadly, I think the efforts to produce a vetted open data license seem to have stalled out.

    15. 🙂 Though — I wonder what OCLC would do if libraries decided to start contributing records back using some kind of Open Data license. Would OCLC be able to use them? Maybe that kind of viral licensing could work to the community’s benefit in reverse (just thinking out loud) 🙂


    16. Ah, it looks like I was wrong maybe, and the Open Data Commons license did reach fruition:

      The GPL is not appropriate for data, for a variety of reasons, including that the enforceability of the GPL is based on the idea that there are copyrights in the code. There is not neccesarily any copyright in data, but there, depending on jurisdiction, other rights that need to be explicitly relinquished/licensed. Thus Talis (I think) started working on an appropriate open license for data, which led to the Open Data Commons thing. I think.

    17. >>The GPL is not appropriate for data,
      >>for a variety of reasons,

      You are right, but other that something like a Creative Commons, attribute-only style of license, it was the best I could come up with to convey the idea that I was after. Though, I’m glad you had a link to something better.


    18. And yeah, the idea of licensing our own original cataloging under an Open Data license before sending it to OCLC was exactl the use case I was thinking of. Fighting fire with fire, indeed.

    19. Terry, good job with your critique. I think you are right that the 996 and the non-compete are big issues. If, as you said, the 996 was just an attribution, I would be fine with it. However, that is not the case. Hopefully these are a couple of the areas that OCLC will re-evaluate (and adjust). I am interested in Jonathan’s idea of librarians putting in their own viral license but I’m not sure how that would mesh with OCLC member agreements.

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