enforcing catalog record copyright is in whose interest?

A comment made at the end of a previous post, which I thought worth expanding and elevating to it’s own post for visibility.

Assume for the sake of argument that there is some copyright inherent in a cataloging record (a not at all clear thing).

If any or all of a cataloging record does possess copyright, then it is of course held by the institution doing the cataloging, unless they assign it elsewhere.

In the case of LC, as part of the federal government nothing they do has copyright in the US.

In the case of large libraries doing original cataloging, I think it is in all of their collective interests to release this putatively copyrighted data into the public domain, in an exersize in mutual reciprocity.

Why do we share cataloging in the first place?

Isn’t that kind of mutual reciprocity exactly why libraries do cooperative cataloging in the first place, the very endeavor that gave rise to the regional ‘bibliographic utility’ of which OCLC is the only one left standing (in the US anyway)?

Libraries aren’t submitting their original cataloging to OCLC for the paltry sums OCLC ‘pays’ (ie credits) them for it; and they aren’t submitting it to OCLC in an attempt to help OCLC gain a monopoly on this information for their own business purposes. They’re submitting it, as they always have been, in order to freely share with other libraries in a collective endeavor of mutual reciprocity.

If only libraries (via their administrators and decision makers) can remember this, remember why they started sharing cataloging records in the first place, instead of just blindly going through the motions of an inherited workflow process which may or may not still be rational.

The desire to share generally useful created metadata freely with other libraries (and, now, in the 21st century, others who are not libraries) in a shared enterprise of mutual reciprocity, is in my opinion, still eminently rational.  So can we get started making sure we’re doing that the best ways possible?

2 thoughts on “enforcing catalog record copyright is in whose interest?

  1. Jonathan, thanks for taking a look at the question why did libraries start OCLC to begin with.

    Pre-Internet, I always thought that we were contributing bibliographic records as a shared effort. There was an element of trust that we would all follow OCLC policy for cataloging standards. We were creating something together that was larger than our individual library databases. The work of adding records to OCLC as a cooperative effort with an end result that was cooperatively owned by OCLC members.

    But, I can’t say I spent a lot of time reading the fine print on member contracts, etc., so maybe I’ve got it all wrong :)

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