Research rewards at risk

January 23, 2003

Universities across Europe fear that a new directive from the European Union could stop them exploiting their intellectual property, seriously undermining research, innovation and funding.

Universities UK and the European University Association are lobbying hard to ensure that amendments to the Public Sector Information Directive, which aims to harmonise the ways in which public-sector information is reused, are rejected at a meeting of the European Parliament's committee on industry, external trade, research and energy next week.

The contributions of educational and cultural bodies were excluded from the draft directive first published in March, but the amendments reinstate them.

According to UUK, universities would be "forced to make the information they generate, such as research papers, generally accessible and to charge only for the cost of reproduction".

The UUK continued: "This would render the creation and distribution of intellectual property by universities uneconomic, and the funds generated by this activity could dry up."

The committee is due to vote on the amendments next Wednesday. If the amendments are passed, it is unlikely that they will be revoked when the draft directive goes to the plenary session of the entire parliament.

A statement from the EUA, which represents more than 600 universities, said: "The amendments aim to reverse the agreed exemption of educational and cultural establishments from the scope of the directive, and to remove the possibility of public-sector bodies making a reasonable return on their investments."

It added that the amendments would "make educational and cultural institutions more dependent on government funding by destroying the incentive to develop the kind of information that the EU wishes to make accessible".

Baroness Warwick, chief executive of UUK, said: "Universities in Europe are drivers of innovation and economic development. These amendments would destroy the incentive to create information and content. This could reduce the ability of European countries to compete in the global economy."

The directive, which contains proposals for the reuse and commercial exploitation of public-sector documents, is part of the eEurope 2002 action plan, An Information Society for All .

In June, the committee appointed Wim van Velzen, a Dutch MEP who is a member of the European Democrats/European People's Party, the biggest voting bloc in the parliament, as rapporteur. The amendments of a rapporteur are rarely overturned.

A justification attached to the amendments stated: "Much of the information held by educational and research establishments will fall outside the scope of the directive in view of third-party copyrights. Therefore, a blanket exclusion from the scope of this directive is not necessary."

An explanatory statement to the committee added: "Unless satisfactory arrangements are made for practical access to information available for reuse, the advantages of this directive, such as the market potential for new information products, will be cancelled out."

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