Intersting article in the Guardian about OCLC. It is harshly critical of OCLC, specifically over OCLC’s record sharing policy attempt to monopolize access to the shared corpus.
Very harsh. OCLC is not going to be pleased.
While in general, I think it is in fact an accurate analysis and accounting of the record distribution policy kerfuffle, I think they go a bit too far in it’s current implications. The headline is “Why you can’t find a library book in your search engine.” I don’t think the record sharing policy or record control attempts are responsible for keeping library book records out of search engines, really—this gives the rest of the library world too much credit for what they would be able to do without worldcat! And Google already is crawling many library catalogs, they’re there (thanks dbs).
The article implies that the reason “OCLC shares only 3m of its 125m records with Google Books; none of them show up in an ordinary search” is becuase OCLC is unwilling to share more records for more uses. My understanding was that OCLC was happy to share all it’s records with Google (but not with you and I, for free), and would like them to show up in ordinary searches, but Google says it’s too much data and they don’t know what to do with it! (Contrary to popular belief, even Google is not omnipotent against the genuinely hard problem of dealing with our gigantic legacy corpus.)
OCLC in fact does a lot to try and put library books on the web, with worldcat.org, and their agreement with Google.
But they do it in a way meant to maintain their monopoly over our shared corpus. While I’m not sure as of today this is responsible for a lack of access, more entities are starting to be in a position to do things with the corpus to improve access, and it is definitely handicapping our future. I’ve questioned before the way the OCLC/Google agreement limits library benefit to the benefit of OCLC and Google. Ed summers has more arguments to that effect.
Meanwhile, Karen Calhoun and OCLC seem to still not understand US copyright law.
Calhoun says OCLC’s legal department is still researching the copyright question, explaining that courts have in the past considered “sweat of the brow”: creating a bibliographic record, she says, requires intellectual effort and judgments by trained personnel.
Yes, Karen, US courts in the past. Before Feist v. Rural (1991). Feist v. Rural specifically and explicitly abandoned the ‘sweat of the brow’ doctrine.
Either this is just a PR thing while OCLC stalls figuring out what it’s going to do–or OCLC ought get itself a lot better lawyers, who actually specialize in intellectual property law, and know that it’s not the same now as it was 20 years ago.
The result of Feist v. Rural is that how much effort or work or money you put into assembling something is irrelevant (in the US) to whether you can have copyright over it. The amount of creativity that went into it (not generic ‘intellectual effort’) is what is relevant. Creative works can be copyrighted. Things that are merely facts assembled without creativity can not be. If OCLC wanted to argue in a US court that the database was copyrightable, they would need to argue that either the creation of cataloging records or the choice of what records to include in worldcat was a creative act, not simply a mechanical following of rules or policies. If only the selection were a creative act (and I don’t know how you’d argue that), then individual records would still not be copyrightable, but just the aggregate database. And if OCLC wanted the copyright on any of this to be held by them, then they’d need to show that it was their employees who exersized this creativity, unless the actual copyright holders (ie, the actual libraries doing original cataloging) assigned the (putative) copyright to OCLC.
Maybe OCLC thinks it has such a novel case that it can change case law, go all the way to the supreme court.
I doubt it.
The article doesn’t quote any OCLC members actually in favor of the policy. While it’s possible they didn’t try that hard, I suspect it’s pretty much impossible to find an OCLC member administration who both can speak knowledgeably about it and will speak in favor of it.
I wonder what this will mean for the outcome of the review commission OCLC has established.