AALL Annual Meeting Session Review D-1: The Innovative Interfaces/SkyRiver v. OCLC Lawsuit: Who Wins? Who Loses?

This session was coordinated and moderated by Richard Jost of University of Washington. Panelists were Marshall Breeding, Vanderbilt University; Jonathan Franklin, University of Washington; and Scott Matheson, Yale Law School.

Scott Matheson began by providing background information on the case, SkyRiver Technology Solutions v. OCLC.  The case, still in litigation, began in July 2010, with Innovative Interfaces joining SkyRiver in charging OCLC with unlawful monopoly of cataloging services, bibliographic data services, interlibrary lending, and an attempt to monopolize integrated library systems.  The suit charges that OCLC engages in exclusionary arrangements, punitive pricing, and unlawful tying arrangements and refuses to deal with for-profit firms in violation of the antitrust laws.    The complaint raises concerns that OCLC is attempting to monopolize the integrated library systems market with its cloud-based Web-scale Management Services and other products that compete directly with for-profit products from SkyRiver and Innovative.

The suit cites the example of Michigan State University in charging OCLC with punitive pricing practices.  MSU moved to SkyRiver’s bibliographic services but maintained its OCLC membership for interlibrary loan functions.  The price quoted to MSU by OCLC to perform a batch load of their bibliographic records from SkyRiver was more than ten times the expected nominal fee of $.23/record.

The scenario changed somewhat this April when Harvard released its library catalog of more than 12 million bibliographic records to promote open access for scholarly communication.  Harvard worked with OCLC on this release.  OCLC states that Harvard maintained “what was most important to the OCLC cooperative – receiving attribution and making others aware of the cooperative’s norms and expectations of one another in regards to data derived from WorldCat,” though not entirely in line with the WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities for the OCLC Cooperative.  (See OCLC blog hangingtogether.org.)

Jonathan Franklin then discussed implications to libraries and users as we seek to define  bibliographic records use and ownership. As content creators, he argued that we should be allowed to share what we produce.  Franklin addressed the notion of silos of information.  Licensing restrictions, for example, are impediments to resource-sharing. He represented the competitors in the field as “cathedrals” and “bazaars.”  Cathedral providers are tightly controlled, with software maintenance in the form of updates and patches.  Bazaars are open source resources, inexpensive, but requiring considerable clean-up. 

Franklin projected that, similar to the genesis and growth of our major legal research databases, bibliographic and ILS providers may evolve into more costly high-end products and less expensive products with fewer options, underscoring the importance of creating interfaces that all products can use.

Marshall Breeding then began with a statement in support of both systems.  Noting that both are positive organizations, he identified their competing visions.  OCLC sees itself bringing libraries worldwide together into one place.  Innovative and SkyRiver see themselves as worthy alternatives for the technology and services that OCLC currently provides.  Web-scale or index-based discovery services such as Ebsco, Summon, ExLibris, Primo, and WorldCat, are gaining wider adoption, but in disciplines such as law, there continue to be outside resources that are not searchable.  This decreases the value of these tools and affects overall use.

In our new environment, we need more than ILS systems. We need integrated library systems plus electronic records management plus Open URL resolvers plus digital asset managers plus whatever the future holds.  Breeding proposes the next generation of “library services platforms” have characteristics of highly shared data models with knowledgebase architecture, delivered through software as a service, with unified workflows across formats and media, flexible metadata management, and open APIs for interoperability.

Mr. Breeding left the question of whether OCLC is a monopoly for others to decide.  He did summarize, however, by saying that OCLC is certainly dominant in multiple businesses and active in others.  While the trend is toward private businesses devolving into smaller industries, OCLC is growing and acquiring, and it is the only non-profit organization among its group of competitors.  In the future, we might expect that bibliographic records will continue to be viewed as a commodity and will be increasingly freely available.  With OCLC’s tolerance of the release of Harvard’s records, there will likely be no actions against libraries that choose to do likewise.

If this case is resolved in favor of SkyRiver, look for relief to anti-competitive pricing and fewer restrictions on how bibliographic, cataloging, and ILL records tie together.  If OCLC succeeds, the status quo is likely to continue.

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