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OCLC's MARC to FRBR "Algorithm"

By ksclarke, Section Ask Anything
Posted on Thu Aug 14th, 2003 at 08:55:54 AM EST
OCLC's has released an "algorithm for converting MARC21 bibliographic databases to the FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) model." It is released under the OCLC Research Public License. Now, I haven't downloaded it yet so maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I didn't think you could actually copyright an algorithm... you can copyright a program obviously, but I thought algorithms had to be patented. For copyright, I thought the thing that is copyrighted had to be an expression (you cannot copyright an idea (but you can patent it)). Am I wrong about this? Or is OCLC's "algorithm" really a program? Or what?


Discussing this with a colleague here presents a different view. She argues that OCLC can license something that is not copyrighted (she agrees with me that they cannot copyright an algorithm). She states there is no legal reason I cannot use the algorithm unless I have agreed to the license (which I haven't yet). Obviously, I am not a lawyer... but this whole thing seems a bit hanky. OCLC has a click through page before I can even see the "algorithm" so it seems I must "agree" to the license (which interestingly specifies that it refers to a "program" not an algorithm) before even getting a peek at what this thing actually is. Is it a program, an algorithm ...

The whole click through thing in itself seems a little problematic to me. Is this consent (and what does that mean)? The GPL states that one does not have to abide by the terms of the license but that there is no other instrument that gives a person permission to use a program released under the license (this is because, in my feeble understanding, the program itself is protected by copyright law -- not the case here if this is really is an algorithm). How binding is a license that licenses something that is not protected by copyright or patent law... does it hold up? Should I click through?

Anyone (in the know) like to shed some light on it for me?

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OCLC's MARC to FRBR "Algorithm" | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 editorial, 0 pending) | Post A Comment
OCLC's contract (none / 0) (#1)
by kcoyle on Mon Aug 18th, 2003 at 05:24:07 PM EST
(User Info) http://www.kcoyle.net

You never know if a contract will hold up until someone tests it in court. How many times have you clicked through a contract without taking the time to read even a word of it? What are the odds that you've never violated one of those contracts?

I did go ahead and download the OCLC algorithm (although at the moment I can't find the hard disk that it's on ;-). I just took a quick look at the contract and it flew right over my head. blah blah legal stuff. I was once present in a situation where there were people who would not download a document because of the contract that preceded it, but the contractor was M$ and these were rival company reps, so they had a reason to be skittish. I did download that document because I personally figure that I'll never do anything worthy of the attention of a large corporation. If I do something with an algorithm of OCLC's I'd probably be either doing it with them or in a way that is public enough that they'd find out and yell if they objected. I presume that the contract is a hedge against someone figuring out how to make big bucks off of something OCLC "invented". Yep, the odds are pretty low.

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FRBR License (none / 0) (#3)
by ThomasBHickey on Tue Aug 19th, 2003 at 07:44:23 AM EST
(User Info)

We put the OCLC Research license on the algorithm because we needed to put something on it and it seemed to me that development of the algorithm was similar enough to development of executable software that it wasn't out of place.

Sorry if it rubs people the wrong way, but the license is OSI vetted and shouldn't really interfere with use.


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OCLC's MARC to FRBR "Algorithm" | 4 comments (4 topical, 0 editorial, 0 pending) | Post A Comment
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