OCLC files suit against Clarivate PLC and its subsidiaries, Clarivate Analytics, Ex Libris, and ProQuest; Clarivate responds; Info pros weigh in

On 13 June 2022, OCLC filed suit against Clarivate PLC and its subsidiaries, Clarivate Analytics (US) LLP, Ex Libris, and ProQuest in the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio.

Claims in the suit include tortious interference with contracts and prospective business relationships and conspiracy to interfere with contracts and business relationships. OCLC seeks both temporary and permanent injunctions to stop Clarivate and its subsidiaries from wrongfully encouraging libraries to violate their agreements with OCLC by contributing collaboratively created records from WorldCat to Clarivate’s MetaDoor service. We are also asking the court to stop Clarivate and its subsidiaries from misappropriating records from WorldCat to develop its MetaDoor service. 

For more information about this suit, please review the filing.

On 27 June 2022, a judge in the United States District Court, Southern District of Ohio, ruled in favour of OCLC’s request for a temporary restraining order.

Why the Lawsuit?

OCLC took this “unprecedented action”  because it believes it has collective responsibility to protect the unparalleled value of WorldCat and the shared infrastructure. According to OCLC, MetaDoor relies on WorldCat records to be a viable, usable data set. This would lead to a weakened WorldCat, less competition, and increased prices. Furthermore, WorldCat isn’t just a place for individual libraries to write and store MARC records. Ongoing collaboration is what makes it powerful.

Clarivate’s Response

 Clarivate responded on 17 June 2022 saying it was “disappointed to report that the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) has filed a lawsuit against Clarivate PLC and subsidiaries, including Ex Libris, and ProQuest in connection with our development plans to create a free and open community peer-to-peer sharing platform for metadata created and owned by libraries.”  On 29 June 2022, it acknowledged that it would full comply with the Court’s Temporary Restraining Order, while continuing to assert that the lawsuit is without merit and it will mount a vigorous defence of its position that MetaDoor is completely legal.

Clarivate’s position is that it is “developing a community-based platform to allow librarians and information experts at museums, educational establishments, cultural and scholarly organizations 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 organization 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.

Information Professionals’ Responses

Initial responses from information professionals manifested in tweets and Facebook posts. On both platforms, Richard Poynder, independent journalist and staunch follower of the library ecosphere pointed to a post from an anonymous blogger, the Library Loon, but did not offer his own analysis. Jeroen Bosman, scholarly communication specialist and faculty liaison for the Faculty of Geosciences at Utrecht University Library, commented on the balance between open and closed metadata and told Information Today editor Brandi Scardilli in a NewsBreak that being defensive (corporations will kill libraries) versus principled (all data should be open) does not really aid academic libraries.  Lukas Kloster, retired University of Amsterdam expert on linked open data infrastructures and now a consultant commented that the lawsuit is a commercial competition between two vendors of library software.   

Todd Carpenter, writing in Scholarly Kitchen on 22 June 2022, “Let the Metadata Wars Begin”     explains the basics of the lawsuit and harkens back to the 2010 lawsuit that SkyRiver brought against OCLC. He notes that SkyRiver is now part of Innovative Interfaces Inc. (III), which in turn is owned by Clarivate. One indication that might derail Clarivate’s defence of MetaDoor is the presence of an OCLC Cataloging Number (OCN), thinks Carpenter, since it’s a unique identifier in the OCLC system. Thoughtful comments to Carpenter’s article include opinions as to whether or not the OCN is copyrightable.

Karen Coyle, weighed in on the lawsuit in a 27 June 2022 blog post in Coyle’s InFormation   http://kcoyle.blogspot.com/     She elucidates the fine points of the cataloguing process and points out that “WorldCat is yesterday’s technology: a huge, centralized database.” As we move from a “thing”-based world to a “data”-based world, she thinks, information seeking behaviour changes, affecting how metadata is created and used. Overall, lawsuits are a blunt instrument used to preserve existing products. Preferable, in her view, would be to “hire one of those people who looks out 20 years to tell you want the environment will be and what you should be investing in today.”


It’s inevitable that the resolution of this lawsuit will take time. By their very nature, lawsuits drag on over, sometimes, years. OCLC has requested a jury trial. I can just imagine lawyers trying to explain OCNs, interlibrary loan, and the intricacies of linked data to an Ohio jury of people who may not even have a library card. More likely, this will not go to trial but will be settled out of court. The philosophical issues of open metadata and shared cataloguing may become clearer, much as open access initiatives have affected the scholarly publishing arena.