Thursday, December 22, 2011

National Library of Sweden and OCLC fail to agree

In a blog post entitled "No deal with OCLC" the National Library of Sweden has announced that after five years they have ended negotiations with OCLC to become participants in WorldCat. The point of difference was over the OCLC record use policy. Sweden has declared the bibliographic data in the Swedish National Catalog, Libris, to be open for use without constraints.
"A fundamental condition for the entire Libris collaboration is voluntary participation. Libraries that catalogue in Libris can take out all their bibliographic records and incorporate them instead into another system, or use them in anyway the library finds suitable." (from the blog post)
This is an example of the down-stream constraint issues that we discussed while working on the Open Bibliography Principles for the Open Knowledge Foundation. While open data may appear to be primarily an ideological stance it in fact has real practical implications. A bibliographic database is made up of records and data elements that can have uses in many contexts. In addition, the same bibliographic data may exist in numerous databases managed by members of entirely different communities. Someone may wish to create a new database or service using data coming from a variety of sources. At times someone will want to use only portions of records and may mix and match individual data elements from different sources. Any kind of constraints on use of the data, including something as seemingly innocuous as allowing all non-commercial use, require the user of the data to keep track of the source of each record or data element. Practically this means that an application using the mix of data is effectively constrained by the most strict contract in the mix. 

The Swedish library was concerned that their participating libraries would be hindered in their future systems and activities if any limitations were placed on data use. In addition, they would not be able to share their data with the Europeana project, as Europeana requires that the data contributed be open precisely because of the complications of managing hundreds or thousands of different sources with different obligations.

As many of us pointed out during the discussions about the OCLC record use policy, the practical problems of controlling down-stream use of data are insurmountable. Some people argue that the record use policy hasn't affected libraries using WorldCat, but my experience is that the policy has a chilling effect on some libraries, and is making it more difficult for libraries to embrace the linked open data model. The Swedish National Library had to make the difficult decision between WorldCat services and future capabilities. It was undoubtedly a hard decision, but it is admirable that the National Library did not give up what it saw as important rights for its users.


Charles Riley said...

WIPO Copyright Treaty Article 5: "Compilations of data or other material, in any form, which by reason of the selection or arrangement of their contents constitute intellectual creations, are protected as such. This protection does not extend to the data or the material itself and is without prejudice to any copyright subsisting in the data or material contained in the compilation."

Karen Coyle said...


Maybe you could say more about what your point is: how the WIPO article relates to this disagreement between NL Sweden and OCLC.

As I understand it, WIPO treaty articles must be implemented within the law of each country before they apply within that country. Sometimes they do not get turned into law, at other times they are not exactly as stated in WIPO. I would presume that OCLC would follow US law, but it must be even more complicated when OCLC is negotiating outside of the US. I have no idea what law applies at that point.

The US law relating to protection of databases DOES protect compilations, but only compilations in which some level of creativity is in play (e.g. a selected bibliography). This may be the same as the "intellectual creation" clause of the WIPO Article, but I don't know if it has been interpreted that way.

OCLC has stated that they are not claiming copyright in the individual records. They also state that the OCLC Record Use Policy is not a contract, but a kind of "gentleman's agreement" with unstated possible penalties for breach. An organization agreeing to the policy is not legally bound, AFAIK, but does put itself in a somewhat unclear position in its relationship with a vendor of essential services.