Nov 022008
 

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:
    MARC:

    996 $aOCLCWCRUP $iUse and transfer of this record is governed by
    the OCLC® Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records.
    $uhttp://purl.org/oclc/wcrup

    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:
    MARC:
    996 $aOCLCWCRUP $iUse and transfer of this record is governed by
    the OCLC® Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records.
    $uhttp://purl.org/oclc/wcrup
  •  

    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.

    –TR

    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: http://blog.reeset.net/ archives/582

     Posted by at 9:33 am