The OCLC Number
The complaint states that
"This OCLC number has permitted OCLC to police its members to ensure that their records are not shared with unauthorized users." (p. 5)Since anyone can add or delete an OCLC number from a MARC record in their own database, I don't see how this could be the case. I would like to see how this claim is supported.
The ILS Market
"OCLC is rapidly gaining market share in the ILS market by leveraging its monopoly power over its bibliographic database... " (p. 6)Can they supply the figures to support this rapid gain in market share? They do state the number of WorldCat Local installations ("624", p. 22), but WCL is not an ILS (even though it may eventually become the basis for one).
Academic Libraries only
The complaint appears to only address academic libraries. (p.7) This could be because the evidence that they claim to have only relates to academic libraries, but both OCLC and III serve many public libraries. The complaint also states that:
"The relevant geographic market ... is the United States, because academic libraries cannot turn to suppliers of these products in other countries to meet their needs." (p. 10)This may just be poorly worded, but if it intends to mean that there are no extra-US companies providing the service then it should have said so. The way it is worded it sounds like there are prohibitions on using non-US suppliers that pertain to academic libraries... could that be so?
In numerous places in the document, the complaint states that OCLC members are required to participate in product development as part of their membership obligation:
"Membership also obligates libraries to assist OCLC in developing new products and services to compete with for-profit firms." (p. 5)I have never heard of this requirement, and would be interested in hearing from institutions who did find themselves essentially forced to participate in pilots as part of their membership.
"OCLC developed, and is still developing, WorldCat Local and WorldCat Local "quick start" through pilot programs in which many of its member university libraries have agreed to participate, without compensation, purportedly to meet the requirements of their membership in OCLC." (p. 20)
Acquisition of Other Companies
The complaint states that over time OCLC has expanded by acquiring 19 library industry companies, 14 of which were for-profit. (They fail to mention that at least some of those companies magically became non-profit when acquired by OCLC, cf. netLibrary.) The remainder of the sentence reads:
"... either to obtain software and other products that enable it to offer library services in competition with the remaining for-profit providers or simply to eliminate products from the marketplace." (p. 23)These are strong words that the complainants should be prepared to prove. I'm not saying that it isn't true. However, in the few cases of which I am aware (WLN, netLibrary, RLG) the acquired company was in financial free-fall and OCLC's purchase was viewed at the time as a rescue that benefited the library community as a whole. In the case of netLibrary, OCLC had agreed to be the escrow agent for the ebooks purchased by libraries, to be called upon should netLibrary go out of business. In that case, OCLC was pretty much pre-obligated to rescue netLibrary or provide some service of its own. (I don't know what the monetary arrangements of the escrow were.) As for WLN and RLG, it's hard to know what would have happened if OCLC hadn't purchased those agencies. I suspect that the libraries using those services would have had to become OCLC members in any case in order to continue functioning as libraries. This only covers three of the 19, and may or may not be representative of OCLC's acquisitions.
[Partial list of acquisitions, gleaned from press releases and annual report:
Dewey Decimal System (1988), Information Dimensions (1993) [sold in 1997], Public Affairs Information Service/PAIS(1999), WLN (1998), netLibrary (2002, with MetaText eTextbook Division, a for-profit subsidiary), Openly Informatics (2006, OpenURL services), RLG (2006), EZproxy (2008), Amlib (2008, Australian web-based ILS), PICA (1997), Fretwell-Downing (2005), Sisis Information Systems (2005). Note: these may not be the same companies referred to in the complaint. This is my cobbled together list, and should only be seen as such.]
Another strange statement is about OCLC's use of head-hunters to hire staff away from other companies:
"In addition to acquiring for-profit companies, OCLC also uses headhunters to identify and recruit employees from for-profit firms. Plaintiffs are informed and believe and based thereon allege that OCLC is using its tax-free dollars to recruit employees of for-profit vendors of library services to eliminate competition and extend OCLC's monopoly to the ILS market." (p. 26)There's obviously a story here, but I don't know what it is. Using headhunters is standard industry practice for a well-heeled high-tech organization. Has OCLC engaged in predatory hiring behavior? And can that allegation be proved?
Access to WorldCat
The strangest thing in this complaint is the repeated insistence that OCLC should give access to the WorldCat database to potential competitors.
"...As a result of OCLC's conduct... Innovative [and SkyRiver, in another paragraph] has suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable harm ... unless this Court orders defendant OCLC to provide access to the WorldCat database to Innovative and other competitors, on such terms as are just and reasonable." (p. 31; same but ref. to SkyRiver p. 29)This argument comes as a surprise to me. I had always assumed that the goal was to allow libraries to provide their bibliographic records freely to anyone they wished, including for-profit companies. I see that as very different from giving competitors direct access to WorldCat. It seems to me that the former goal would be very easy to argue, but direct access to OCLC's own database seems much more difficult to justify. I'm quite puzzled by this, unless I am drawing the wrong conclusion about what it means.
There's a part of me that wants this to go to court so that we can get answers to these intriguing questions. There's another part of me that sees the possiblity that this could be a lose-lose proposition. Given the overall stress in the library community, both monetary and technological, in-fighting looks to be the worst thing we could do to ourselves.
There is no doubt that a large, union catalog of library holdings is key to providing the kind of web-scale (sorry, but I couldn't think of another word) services that libraries absolutely must provide today. That said, that database does not have to be WorldCat, although WorldCat performs that function at this moment in time. The main thing is that we must have a union/universal catalog that serves libraries and their users. It shouldn't be a limited access asset that is being fought over for market share. I don't have a solution to offer, but it's clear to me that the solution is: FREE THE DATA.