What is up with OCLC?

This all started with a little wink-wink posting about OCLC from Tim over at LibraryThing which was the first I’d heard about OCLC’s policy changes. As someone who doesn’t interact with OCLC or their data too much, I didn’t really understand this and had to wait for some clarification posts to understand both what was going on and how it affected people and projects like LibraryThing and Open Library. The upshot as I understand it is that OCLC is basically saying “Sure you can share your records, but not with people or organizations who materially compete with us” That’s my summary anyhow. Here’s the non-legalese policy on the OCLC site. Here’s the more legalese version. Here’s a wiki version of the changes between the “old” new policy and the new policy. Isn’t technology grand? Karen Calhoun a VP over at OCLC has written a defense of the new policy on her own blog; there is some lively discussion happening in the comments. There is also this podcast of Roy Tennant and Karen Calhoun talking with Richard Wallis from Talis (whose business model is also potentially affected by this policy change) about the ramifications of this change.

So, the policy OCLC has put up has been revised somewhat, doesn’t go into effect until February, and gives people a lot of time to think about what if anything they want to do about this. Tim Spalding has a business model that is compromised by OCLCs refusal to let their members share these records. The Open Library project is also possible compromised and Aaron Swartz has written two posts about the policy change: Stealing Your Library: The OCLC Powergrab and OCLC On The Run. He also directs people to the Stop OCLC Petition if you’d like to sign on to ask OCLC to repeal these changes. More community discussion taking place at MetaFilter, Inside Higher Ed, and Slashdot and code4lib is maintaining a wiki with links to more commentary. I’m still catching up on the back and forth and may write more later, but it’s interesting to watch this unfold.

4 thoughts on “What is up with OCLC?

  1. One common question that runs through all of this is the issue of whether OCLC owns the rights to these records… and the general legal consensus is “no”. Even if the data could be copyrighted, the actual creators of the records in question are the contributing libraries. One good example can be found in Jonathan Rochkind’s blog: http://bibwild.wordpress.com/2008/11/06/one-more/

    When it is understood that OCLC cannot own the data held within the records, it becomes clear that they cannot control the use of the data that is derived from library OPAC records, even if those records went through OCLC on their journey to that library. They might be able to claim some control over the record as an expression (also doubtful, as they did not create the vast majority of them), but not the information contained within.

    I think OCLC is attempting to defend what it sees as its territory, much like Microsoft’s attempts to limit competition in the 1990s. I think it demonstrates that they are feeling insecure about their business model, and are moving to stop competition before it gains more of a foothold.

    My $0.02, at least….

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