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Weekly News Digest

June 21, 2022 — In addition to this week's NewsBreaks article and the monthly NewsLink Spotlight, Information Today, Inc. (ITI) offers Weekly News Digests that feature recent product news and company announcements. Watch for additional coverage to appear in the next print issue of Information Today. For other up-to-the-minute news, check out ITIís Twitter account: @ITINewsBreaks.

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Info Pros React to OCLC's Lawsuit Against Clarivate

Responses to the OCLC-Clarivate lawsuit filed June 13 boil down to one sentiment: This may not necessarily be a good development for—or have a beneficial outcome for—libraries. Opinions vary on how problematic OCLC’s cataloging actually is and how monopolistic Clarivate is. Some people have suggested the development of library-led, open source cataloging that doesn’t involve either company.

COMPETITION/COOPERATION

Jeroen Bosman, scholarly communication specialist and faculty liaison for the Faculty of Geosciences at Utrecht University Library, tweeted that OCLC is suing Clarivate “over ‘stealing’ its bibliographic metadata records to build MetaDoor, a prospective Worldcat competitor. So libraries & academia expect open metadata from publishers but keep their own closed?” He commented, “Would love to see a webinar on how to marry the goal of maintaining not-for-profit library services with the goal of having an open ecosystem of metadata of academic output.”

Bosman weighed in via email on what the responses have been like so far: “Generally I think that reactions that either are very defensive (corporations will kill libraries) or extremely principled (all data should be open to anyone for every purpose, always) are understandable but do not bring us forward. What would be helpful is a discussion on what (academic) libraries and especially OCLC members [would] like to achieve and how sharing bibliographic records is part of that. And crucial in this specific discussion is for OCLC to argue in detail their stance on the matter, and making that stance easy to find on their website.”

Lukas Koster, a consultant who has worked with linked open data infrastructures, tweeted, “Clarivate means Ex Libris (which merged with Proquest which was required by Clarivate). It’s not new.... The[y are the] two main competitors in library software. It’s about the essential bibliographic metadata created by libraries, appropriated and monetized by the ‘non-profit’ OCLC.” He added, “[I]t’s about commercial competition, both OCLC and Ex Libris/Clarivate sell library software. The collaborative metadata is appropriated by OCLC, the basis of Worldcat etc. Ex Libris is trying to get their fair share.”

Ginny Steel, Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian at the UCLA Library and an OCLC board member, sees the two companies as being on different levels. She tweeted, “Clarivate is an $8.8 Billion for-profit corporation that dominates ARL & academic library ILS market. Their ‘free/open’ metadata service will take the work of a 50+ year-old the OCLC (~$230M) cooperative. Very worried that we’re missing the gamesmanship here.”

Emily Drabinski, interim chief librarian at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York and ALA’s 2023–2024 president, tweeted:

When I taught reference services at Pratt I’d have students read a few chapters from a hagiography of H.W. Wilson. … A great explanation of why libraries consolidated indexing services through a vendor, [definitely] a rosy picture but also real.

That cooperation and collaboration are expensive, we can’t function without them, it needs to be somebody’s job or it’s nobody’s job. And who should do it and how much it should cost are fundamental structuring questions of our field. It’s our job to struggle over answers.

This is my contribution to the [discussion]. Along with the fact that the problem is profit, and being not-for-profit doesn’t make an organization exempt from the demands of profit. …

HISTORY

George Pike, NewsBreaks’ resident legal expert, says in an email:        

It’s a pretty intense contract dispute, and a core issue may be who owns the bibliographic records, the individual library or OCLC? If my library owns its records, it can upload them to whoever it would like. However, it appears that OCLC’s position is that when my library’s record for a new title is sourced from OCLC via World Cat (see paragraphs 45 through 50 of the suit) then the use of the record is limited by the OCLC Terms of Use contracts (paragraphs 84 through 91), and encouraging libraries to upload their records to MetaDoor interferes with those contracts. 

It brings memories of similar suits in the legal space where online caselaw databases were accused of sourcing their content from Westlaw, stripping out the clearly Westlaw proprietary content, but retaining the non-copyrighted text of the court opinion. Those were not framed as copyright infringement lawsuits (this one is not framed as copyright infringement because the records themselves contain nothing but factual information that is not covered by copyright), but as violations of the terms and conditions. In most of those suits, I recall that Westlaw won, but the ‘David vs. Goliath’ aspect in this case is reversed. 

Becky Yoose, founder and library data privacy consultant at LDH Consulting Services, also noticed the historical echoes of the suit when she tweeted, “In 2010 Skyriver (III [i.e., Innovative]) sued OCLC for holding a monopoly over the bibliographic data/cataloging services market. III is now part of Clarivate, who is now getting sued by OCLC. About bibliographic records. I am getting too old for this.” She commented, “[T]his is all pretty much a farce because the way the market is set up to exploit cataloging labor.” Yoose elaborated via email, saying that the suit “involves two vendors with close to a monopoly over their respective areas of the library marketplace. This lawsuit is funded by library money paid to these vendors and fought over who has the right to monetize the labor of catalogers and other library workers. No matter if the suit is settled out of court or if it goes to trial, there is no specific outcome that would benefit libraries.”

OCLC AS GOLIATH

The Gavia Libraria blog, which doesn’t hold back, shares in “Stoning Goliath” that OCLC might not have what it needs to win the suit: “If OCLC had proof that WorldCat records had ended up in MetaDoor, it would gleefully have exhibited that proof to the court. It doesn’t. It’s fishing for the slightest shreds of evidence that Clarivate/ExLibris might have wink-wink-nudge-nudge hinted to its MetaDoor beta participants that copying over WorldCat records would be acceptable, or that MetaDoor does not make any effort to keep WorldCat records out. Lacking those, OCLC wants to make extraordinarily clear that WorldCat records just better not end up in MetaDoor.”

The blog continues, “There’s a David eyeing up the OCLC Goliath: libraries themselves, whom OCLC has extorted and hung out to dry for years, if not decades. … It is a true pity (and embarrassment) that libraries are so bad at collaborating on matters involving technology; Hathi Trust is very nearly the field’s only success in that space. David could have forced Goliath into open licenses for WorldCat data.”

As for the suit’s outcome, the blog states, “[I]t is likely in David’s best interest for Clarivate/ExLibris to win this specific lawsuit. MetaDoor has been designed … to be open enough for forkability: CC0 licensing, peer-to-peer record sharing, and so forth. … OCLC already has a de facto monopoly desperately in need of breaking. If MetaDoor can accomplish that, more power to MetaDoor.”

The blog suggests a “better [option] than either MetaDoor or WorldCat: ditching MARC altogether for a linked-data cataloging infrastructure. Smartly built, this could supplant and ultimately destroy current-generation catalog recordstores and make the embrace-extend-extinguish strategy far more difficult to re-implement. Let OCLC and Clarivate/ExLibris sue each other into extinction over MARC-based assets inexorably shrinking in value.”



Send correspondence concerning the Weekly News Digest to NewsBreaks Editor Brandi Scardilli

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