British and American librarians and university administrators look set to join forces in developing a framework to help institutions manage intellectual property rights as the information technology revolution gathers pace.
The move stems from the work of a task force set up in the United States by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Research Libraries.
Ann Okerson, director of ARL's office of scientific and academic publishing, says that the task force aims to work closely with the Follett information technology follow-up team led by Lynne Brindley, librarian and director of information services at the London School of Economics.
Washington-based Ms Okerson says that in the US, ownership of IPR created by universities is often handed over to commercial publishers who then sell it back to universities.
But when academics want to use copyrighted property they often encounter legal restrictions that highlight the market value of such material which has resulted from their own creativity as well as improvements by publishers.
Advances in information and communications technologies are having major implications for IPR governed by copyright, she says. The new electronic environment may provide universities with an opportunity to develop alternatives to current, commercially dominated systems of information, creation, distribution and use.
The task force argues that "even the most casual scan of the current university information scene shows that the work of every department and individual is entwined with the legal and practical implication of intellectual property, its management and its reproduction and use". Examples of such activity include dramatic increases in the use of computers, CD-Roms and the evolution of global scholarly and research communities spurred by communication systems such as the Internet.
The US task force believes that the higher education community "must take a more thoughtful, comprehensive and purposeful view of copyright matters". Ms Okerson says that measures employed to help tackle the issue will be different for the two countries. "We would have to propose voluntary measures here. Britain's more centralised higher education system may have to develop along a different route."