Claws out: WorldCat sues Clarivate over plan for rival platform

World’s biggest bibliographic database claims MetaDoor is ‘misappropriating’ its catalogue to drive it out of business

June 25, 2022
Source: istock

The world’s largest library catalogue, WorldCat, is suing Clarivate to stop the global analytics company from creating a free rival product that, it claims, would “steal” its scholarly materials to “further consolidate [Clarivate’s] dominant position” in online library services.

In a 32-page deposition made at an Ohio court, the owner of WorldCat, which provides access to more than 500 million references to 4 billion books, essays and other reference materials, says plans by Clarivate to establish a “free and open community peer-to-peer sharing platform for metadata created and owned by libraries” are contingent on the “misappropriating” of a catalogue it has spent decades collating at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.

It calls for a temporary restraining order on the proposed MetaDoor platform, which has been set up as a “direct competitor” to WorldCat, as well as seeking “punitive damages” of at least $75,000 (£61,000).

Under WorldCat’s business model, libraries upload descriptions of the records they hold, allowing researchers to find rare or obscure materials around the world. Access to the bibliographic database is free, but WorldCat’s owner, Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), also offers subscription-based services such as resource-sharing to its 32,000 institutional members – with the database directly accounting for 40 per cent of its revenues and 83 per cent indirectly.

In court documents obtained by the US library site Info Docket, OCLC – a not-for-profit operation that employs about 1,200 people, mainly in Ohio – claims that Clarivate and its subsidiary businesses, Clarivate Analytics, ProQuest and Ex Libris, have “chosen to take shortcuts by using the MetaDoor platform to misappropriate catalog records and metadata created by OCLC, its members, and others”, rather than develop their own unique reference database.

In practice, this has seen the defendants “providing OCLC’s WorldCat records to MetaDoor users without requiring those users to subscribe to use WorldCat or otherwise pay OCLC for those records”, the claim adds.

This represents the company “tortiously interfering with OCLC’s prospective business relationships” – a claim that Clarivate denied, saying the “lawsuit is without merit, and we will vigorously defend our position”.

However, OCLC claims that the new platform is entirely dependent on universities and academic collections uploading their WorldCat references on to MetaDoor, stating that Clarivate’s “predatory behaviour” in encouraging this sharing of metadata would cause “devastating” harm to its business.

The “defendants know that without being able to steal valuable WorldCat records, MetaDoor will not survive”, the court documents state, adding that “MetaDoor’s entire structure is built on the back of WorldCat and the more than five decades worth of work and hundreds of millions of dollars invested by OCLC to create it”.

The creation of the free library catalogue is, OCLC claims, “not purely altruistic” and is “instead…[the] latest attempt to further consolidate [Clarivate’s] dominant position in the [integrated library systems/library services provider] market”, it adds, stating that the “profit-sacrificing behaviour [is designed] to ultimately drive OCLC (and potentially its other competitors) from the ILS/LSP market”.

The “defendants are likely to succeed unless they are stopped from pursuing their current course of wrongful actions”, the lawsuit adds.

In a statement, Clarivate said it was “developing a community-based platform to allow librarians and information experts at museums, educational establishments, cultural and scholarly organisations and more, to freely and easily collaborate to enrich and share metadata to surface and expose their own bibliographic resources and content to a global audience”.

“It will be open to any organisation of all sizes and type. All records shared will be available under an appropriate open licence, to allow records to be copied and used in original or modified form,” it added, stating that it “supports library commitments to open up access to metadata via sharing”.

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