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Solving Copyright Issues Book by Book: OCLC’s WorldCat Copyright Evidence Registry
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Posted On September 8, 2008


Most librarians working in traditional library settings have experienced the crisis of trying to satisfy a patron who wants a permanent copy of an out-of-print but not out-of-copyright book. Even when patrons might be satisfied with an indefinite loan, somehow, those cases usually involve interlibrary loan copies with specific return dates. The problems go from pesky to imposing when the issues arise during the many mass digitization projects libraries are performing these days, where the frequency of such copyright crises can jump from once or twice a year to once or twice a shelf. Help is on the way. OCLC (www.oclc.org) is in the third month of a 6-month pilot project testing a WorldCat Copyright Evidence Registry (CER; www.worldcat.org/copyrightevidence).

The new registry is designed to tap the expertise of librarians by giving them an opportunity to record efforts they have conducted to identify copyright status for sharing with colleagues and the public. The input is tied to OCLC’s 100 million-plus bibliographic records for books in WorldCat. The goal is to create a union catalog built by the library community.

Besides drawing on the metadata in the WorldCat database, the largest bibliographic database of library holdings, the new service also taps into OCLC’s culture and history. "The Copyright Evidence Registry builds on the WorldCat cooperative model envisioned by OCLC founder Frederick Kilgour," says Chip Nilges, OCLC vice president, business development. "OCLC, and its network of libraries and librarians, is in a position to take a leadership role in this cooperative effort to build a database of copyright status information for all to share."

Who can use the new service? Anyone. Who can contribute information to the new service? Anyone willing to register—for free—and get a WorldCat account. Of course, the thousands of libraries subscribing to OCLC’s Connexion cataloging have authorization to access the new service. By lodging the new registry in its www.worldcat.org outlet, rather than under www.oclc.org, OCLC has guaranteed the widest availability for both the use of and collaborative contributions to the registry.

In fact, the registry is not limited to libraries or librarians. Bill Carney, OCLC content manager, has already received input from the daughter of an author offering her email ID for those interested in contacting her. Carney was "very interested in talking with any organization." Though he has not initiated such talks yet, he did mention some types of organizations such as professional associations of authors, publisher trade organizations, even the Copyright Clearance Center.

In October or November, according to Carney, the registry will begin testing a feature that lets libraries or organizations subscribing to the registry set up automated copyright rules to analyze information in the registry and form an organized conclusion about copyright status. Initially, that feature will only be open to the formal pilot project libraries, according to Carney. If you are interested in that feature, you should contact OCLC and ask to become a Copyright Evidence Registry subscriber.

As of now, the number of libraries formally working with the Copyright Evidence Registry numbers less than a dozen, but Carney expects that number to rise as more people hear about it. Soon, the registry will incorporate data from Stanford University’s Copyright Renewal Database, matching records using computer algorithms. The matches will not be perfect due to the lack of standard identifiers in the renewal records, but they will include the data in CER when they find a strong match. They also hope that people using the Stanford-augmented records will report any problems or corrections.

Searching the WorldCat Copyright Evidence Registry involves basic book metadata—title, author, publication year, country of publication, ISBN, or OCLC number. In time, OCLC expects to add multiple-item or batch entry features to the pilot. A "sandbox" record is currently available for those interested in testing the process. The service can also provide email notifications for when information about a book changes in the registry. If the pilot proves successful and OCLC commits fully to the service, Carney also expected it to expand beyond just books.

Copyright information OCLC expects to get from CER contributors could include the copyright owner’s identity or contact information, details of a copyright search, information about a copyright renewal record, a description of the book’s copyright statement, or just thoughts on its copyright status.

Carney made it clear that the registry was not intended to determine copyright. "We are not trying to make copyright determinations, just to have people share what they know. Librarians should focus on what they are most comfortable sharing. Librarians are very good at knowing what they can and can’t share. In pilot groups, some libraries are very open and offer lots of evidence; others back off. There are no minimums." However, there is one key authentication point: Input is openly tied to contributors. In time, Carney expected that users of the registry would build up trust issues tied to identification of contributors.

Ivy Anderson, director of collections at the California Digital Library and working with one of the largest library mass digitization programs in the country, suggested that in time, the service might allow users to build "trust profiles." Anderson sees the CER as providing help to a "big slice of the digitizing community. There are lots of community-based digitization efforts that need this kind of material, like Project Gutenberg, for example." Issues of scalability remain to be resolved, according to Anderson, but she seemed confident that OCLC would be the one to solve them, if anyone could.

OCLC is very interested in gathering feedback (www.worldcat.org/copyrightevidence/registry/feedback). Though the feedback received is not being shared among users at this point, Carney thinks that it might be a "good idea for the future. We’ve talked about putting social tools into service." At present, Carney says, "We have a little wiki going for the formal pilot libraries, but you need to be inside. It’s mainly prerelease announcements."

The pilot project is scheduled to close at the end of December, according to Carney, but it could be extended at that point or taken to the executive board for decisions on its future. As the project grows, more and more issues may arise. For example, OCLC’s worldwide service will draw in non-U.S. copyright situations. Carney says they made a "specific effort not to make this U.S.-centric. We’re making it as open as possible, but it’s still a pilot. If we need to add something by country, we certainly could."

The WorldCat Copyright Evidence Registry is not the only service that mass digitization efforts by and from libraries are receiving from Carney’s section of OCLC. He also manages the Econtent Synchronization Program, which ties WorldCat records of print books to the individual URLs for digitized copies. In the case of the biggest book digitization program of all, Google Book Search, that means linked records for all the contributions from Google’s Library Partners, both the versions at Google and the versions at the participating libraries’ sites. It does not include the books coming from the Publisher Partner side of Google Book Search. Carney was unsure whether all the non-U.S. library partners to Google Book Search were OCLC member libraries. However, that should be no barrier. Carney says the program is open to "any mass digitization—heck, any digitization!—any library that wants to participate. Maybe some of the European Google Book Search libraries aren’t OCLC members. I haven’t contacted them, but we won’t exclude them."


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

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