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Open data license for WorldCat-derived records

Libraries looking to make their bibliographic data available for free on the Internet may release their catalog data as linked data, as MARC21 or as MARCxml. These datasets will often contain data derived from WorldCat in the course of the institution's use of OCLC systems and services. In the Semantic Web environment, it is a best practice to provide data along with a license that clearly sets out the terms under which the data is being made available.

Members of the OCLC cooperative have asked for OCLC's advice given the update of OCLC's record use policy and the publication of the WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities for the OCLC Cooperative, which is the guiding document around use of WorldCat data.

The WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities as a whole describes expectations of behavior, but is not a contract in itself or binding on the behaviors of member institutions in regard to their data. OCLC has responsibilities within this relationship as well, that include "modifying, enriching or reformatting" member-contributed data, and in particular in its Principles has committed to:

  • "Facilitate the participation of libraries, archives and museums as authorized users of OCLC systems and services," and;
  • "Respond to changes in technology and in the goals, organization and cooperative agreements of members consistent with OCLC's public purposes."

While OCLC makes a copyright claim on the WorldCat union catalog as a whole as a compilation, it makes no copyright claim on the individual records in WorldCat. The OCLC Global Council has asked members to follow the WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities guidelines as a set of community norms when using and transferring individual WorldCat records and aggregated sets of those records.

Most library catalogs will be composed of bibliographic records from many sources with different intellectual property claims associated with the different categories of records, based on the relationship of the library with the supply source. A release of a library's full catalog would, therefore, also have to allow for acknowledgment of all of those varying rights in the records.

Without a license, users can never be sure of their rights to the information and this can have a chilling effect on innovation. Therefore, OCLC members concerned with following best practice and who want to give users a firm foundation to build new applications, perform analyses, create new tools or otherwise build new things using their library information, will want to provide a license for their data.

After much analysis and discussion, the OCLC membership has endorsed the Open Data Commons Attribution (ODC-BY) license recommendation. It is a good fit for the type of data in library catalogs, provides for attribution, and is compatible with the obligation in section 3.B. 1. of WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities that asks OCLC members to ensure awareness of the policy. Further, the ODC framework permits a set of community norms (in this case, WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities) to be linked with the ODC-BY license.

OCLC has used and implemented an ODC-BY license notice for its own projects and recommends it to OCLC members who want to release their library catalogs under an open data license structure that is consistent with WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities.