Cataloging and Classification/Rights

Rights and Bibliographic Data


Defining rights to bibliographic data is a complicated matter. The rights to a particular record vary according to the originating institution, their description level, and other factors. Records created by employees of the Library of Congress as part of their official duties, for instance, are in the public domain. Other libraries, however, retain rights to certain bibliographic data. Several libraries, including a number of national European libraries, have opted to explicitly waive their rights to catalog data using the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0). These libraries include the British Library (2011), Deutsche Nationalbibliothek (2012), and the National Library of Spain (2012); as well as Harvard University (2012), the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries, and CERN European Organization for Nuclear Research Library (both 2011).

At the core of any bibliographic record is purely descriptive metadata: a document's title, author, place of publication, physical dimensions, etc. In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court established that information alone, without some minimum of original creativity, cannot be protected by copyright (Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340). Therefore, purely descriptive catalog records, like minimal vendor records and many fiction records, are likely not protected by copyright, no matter what which institution created them. Bibliographic records denoting the aboutness of a particular document -- those including subject headings, notes, and the like -- are eligible for copyright, but few libraries opt to explicitly claim copyright. Finally, as more OPACs are allowing library users to add tags, reviews, and other metadata to catalog records, things get even trickier. While Web 2.0 social cataloging websites, such as LibraryThing and Goodreads, have clearly defined terms and guidelines explaining the rights of both parties to user-submitted bibliographic data, most library catalogs have not explicitly identified such rights.

Further Reading


Proposed 2008 OCLC Policy

2012 OCLC ODC-BY Recommendation

Open licenses