Talis Podcast about OCLC WorldCat Record Use Policy with Karen Clahoun and Roy Tennant

Richard Wallis of Talis produced a podcast with Vice President WorldCat and Metadata Services, Karen Calhoun and Senior Programme Officer, Roy Tennant about the new WorldCat Record Use Policy. The podcast is about an hour long and Richard asks some of his own questions as well as some sent in by others. Overall there wasn’t a lot of new stuff about policy specifics for people that have been following the controversy. However both Karen and Roy provided additional information about what OCLC’s thought process was in creating the new policy. For that reason I’d say even if you have been following the issue, if you have a chance to listen to the podcast, it is probably worth your time. If you haven’t been following it closely, I think it can get you up to speed, at least from OCLC’s perspective on what some of the issues are.

One of the key things that Karen and Roy repeated a few times during the podcast (and OCLC people have mentioned previously in other venues) is that the goal with this policy is to drive traffic to libraries museums and archives. They also have repeated that they hope it will make it easier for libraries, museums, and archives to use their data. It is not that I am not hearing them on this second point, but I still do not see how this “tiger’s role (territorial and instinctive)” approach accomplishes this.

I am guessing Karen and Roy would say that this is accomplished via the oft mentioned Proposal for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records form where you can ask for permission to use WorldCat records. I think that answer would be a bit of a stretch. I’d rather have the rights to use records explicit in the policy instead of having to ask for permission. While having OCLC having a method to responding to requests is no doubt an improvement, the existence of a form by itself doesn’t do anything. It will be more of an issue as to what happens when a proposal is submitted. To this end, OCLC has been consistent saying that the intent of the form was not to be restrictive and they want to approve as many of these requests as they can. During the podcast Karen said that “Our hope is that we will be approving these things left and right.” I hope this ends up to be true, however, I believe the need to submit a proposal will be a hindrance to innovation. If someone has an idea that needs to be hashed out and they don’t know how OCLC will respond once they get a clearer idea, they may just drop it altogether. While I am willing to take Roy, Karen, and others from OCLC at their word, I am still not real comfortable with this approach. I’d rather see something much more open from the beginning. Despite my uncomfortableness, I am hopeful that OCLC will approve these requests “left and right.”

Richard asked a series of questions about how copyright-able the WorldCat database is. As many of you know the courts have found that a database of facts is not copyright-able in the USA. Karen mentioned that she was not a copyright expert but she thought the copyright was based on the compilation and that OCLC has invested a large effort into maintaining the database. However, the amount of sweat used during the creation and maintenance of a database is not by itself suffice for copyright. Karen did say that she was not a copyright expert and offered to respond to this on her Metalogue blog after asking OCLC legal council about the copyright status of WorldCat as a whole and individual records. I look forward to there are response. If it is true that the copyright is based on the compilation, then any individual record or group of records would not be copyrighted.*

One of my complaints about the policy has been the ability to import records into commercial search and discover tools such as Endeca or Primo. Richard asked about this using Aquabrowser as an example. Karen said that she felt this was “perfectly acceptable” and that “the policy is silent […] it has no conditions or restrictions whatsoever.” Roy added that it would not make a difference if the service was hosted by a commercial vendor. I am glad that Karen and Roy think this would not be an issue and that it is “perfectly acceptable.” however the policy clearly states:

An OCLC Member or a Non-OCLC Member may Transfer WorldCat Records of its own Holdings to a Third-Party who has entered into a separate agreement with OCLC authorizing the Third-Party’s receipt of the WorldCat Records (D1b)

B14 says that

“Transfer” means conveyance to another by exchange, merger, sharing, gift, providing the capability to download or otherwise electronically copy or any other means.

I don’t see how OCLC can say the policy “ has no conditions or restrictions whatsoever. Unless there in an exception I don’t see in this policy, the wording doesn’t allow this without some sort of agreement between the third party with OCLC. As Karen has mentioned in her blog post, this is a legal document. I am not comfortable with just hearing from them that this is allowed – I want to see it in the policy. Karen may believe that it is “perfectly acceptable” but maybe her successor will not.

Related to this are issues with sharing records to individual library patrons that use tools such as Zotero, RefWorks and Endnote. As I mentioned before, they have agreed to remove “any individual” from the definition of a third party which is a huge improvement. The current version of the policy on their Web site has removed this but they have not added any specific wording in the policy allowing libraries to share the data with individuals. While it is true that they say this is allowed in the FAQ, the FAQ is not the legal document. The policy is. Maybe I am being nit-picky about this, but if OCLC wants to have a new legal policy governing the use of WorldCat records they should make the policy more explicit about this.

A number of librarians have been concerned about what this new policy does to their ability to use Z39.50 servers. When asked about this in the Podcast, Karen said that they are “not necessarily asking libraries to police their Z39.50 connections,. However they are encouraging libraries to alert us of [infringing] usages.” As with the use of records for individual use this is not explicit in the policy although it is addressed in the FAQ.

Many libraries have shared, or would like to share, their records with the Open Library. When Richard asked about this Karen said that they would like to “have to an agreement with OpenLibrary that helps drive searches to libraries” but it sounded like they were concerned about some of the statements from Open Library. Based on what Karen said in the podcast, I think there is little chance that if someone filled out request to send their records to Open Library it would be approved course, I am not sure the Open Library would take them anyway with the “viral” license attached to the records.

One of the things discussed in the blogosphere was if OCLC should break apart and become partly cooperative and partly commercial. Karen said that OCLC has no plans to move that way to which Richard pointed out that OCLC owns commercial companies in Europe and elsewhere. Karen said she was inadequately prepared to answer this question (which makes sense, after all she is not an international trade lawyer after all). It is an important one to consider however. In the USA, we often here that OCLC is a cooperative, but it really isn’t that way for all libraries around the world. As with the copyright issue, Karen offers to try to find out more information about this status and post it to her blog.

Roy’s closing thoughts were

I just want to make it clear that really we are trying to make it easier for our member institutions to use their data in interesting new ways to become more effective, more efficient. I think we’re backing that up with real services. We are exposing their data to them in useful ways that can be processed by software so I think this is a good direction for us and I think the new policy is a part of that direction.

to which Karen added that they

tried to make the policy as open as possible.

Well, obviously they didn’t make it as open as possible or they would have done just that; made it truly open. If that was really their goal, we would have a much more open policy. However I do understand the concerns of OCLC. I just don’t think this approach is in the long term interest of OCLC members and other libraries. Metadata hoarding is not going to be a viable long term business model for libraries.

I believe Roy and other OCLC employees when they say that want to make it possible for libraries to “use their data in interesting new ways to become more effective, more efficient.” Roy and the other people I know who work for OCLC really do care about libraries. I just don’t see how the policy does this. While the current people speaking on behalf of OCLC may want to approve as many WorldCat record use requests as possible, they may not always be the ones making the decisions. This is why I want as much of these rights enumerated in the policy, instead of hiding behind a request form that “OCLC reserves the right to accept or reject any proposed Use or Transfer of WorldCat Records which, in OCLC’s reasonably exercised discretion, does not conform to the Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records.”

* At least OCLC would not be the copyright holder except possibly for the records that they have created. Of course, this all depends if a MARC record is copyright-able – something that is up for debate.


  1. Jonathan Rochkind said,

    November 16, 2008 at 12:11:14

    Thanks for this summary Ed, very useful for those of us who have trouble finding time to listen to podcasts.

    I’d note that, while I’m not a lawyer either, my understanding of copyright law is that OCLC wouldn’t have much of a case for copyrighting the ‘compilation’ either, as per the post Feist v. Rural state of the law. The amount of effort put into assembling a compilation is almost entirely irrelevant to the law of copyright post Feist v. Rural.

    The most important negative part of the policy, which it doesn’t sound like they discussed much in the interview (?) is that any use is prohibited which “substantially replicates the function, purpose, and/or size of WorldCat.” That means that clearly OCLC would deny permission for uses they believe to be such, but also that OCLC is asserting that with or without such an agreement, such use is prohibited, by libraries or by anyone else.

    It seems clear to me that Open Library participation would be prohibited on these grounds alone, as it clearly aspires to approach the ‘size’ of WorldCat.

    OCLC wants you to be able to use the records, as long as you aren’t using them for anything that is like WorldCat. They want to, as much as they have control over, discourage anything else like WorldCat from existing. Me, I want to encourage as many entities as possible to experiment with things that are “like” WorldCat in size, function, and even purpose. I think it serves OCLC members’s interests to do so. We need more experimentation, more attempts, from different and even contradictory directions, to see what we can do with corpuses of our collective cataloging, and with infrastructure for cooperative cataloging.

    OCLC thinks that allowing this is incompatible with allowing OCLC to survive. I don’t think this is true, but even if it WERE true, I don’t think the choice of which thing to sacrifice would neccesarily be answered favorably to OCLC.

    Of course, OCLC wants to prohibit this to the extent they can. It remains unclear to what extent they legally can. But part of the point of this policy is to expand OCLC’s _legal_ ability to control these uses by establishing contractual restrictions with OCLC members and third parties that did not exist before. Which is why, if I were a third party like Open Library, I’d be reluctant to enter into such an agreement with OCLC even if they were to offer me one.

  2. more OCLC « Bibliographic Wilderness said,

    November 16, 2008 at 12:11:26

    […] November 16, 2008 Posted by jrochkind in General. trackback Ed Corrado provides a useful summary of a podcast interview with Karen Calhoun and Roy Tennant, by Richard Wallis or Talis about OCLC […]

  3. Diane Hillmann said,

    November 16, 2008 at 23:11:38

    I, too, am very suspicious of the claim that permissions will be granted easily to use records for various innovative purposes. This sort of application thing has been OCLC’s policy for some time, but it has always been very difficult to get records from them for research purposes. At some point a few years ago I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time trying to get records from them to use as training data for a project we were working with that attempted to create metadata records in an automated manner, including LCSH assignments. In response to my request I received a “no” answer, from someone clearly at a fairly low level. I appealed, and got another negative response. I finally gave up in disgust.

    I also recall that Bill Moen didn’t have an easy time getting records for his research into MARC use a few years ago–as I recall he had to accept records that were “disabled” in some way, though I can’t remember the details. I wasn’t surprised, given my own experience.

    This was RESEARCH, people–requests by researchers with stellar reputations. In no way were these records going to be redistributed, or used in ways that hadn’t been stated in the application.

    So when I hear that there will be no problem getting permission to experiment with innovative uses and new cool library applications–well, I hope you’ll excuse my cynicism.

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