British universities are lobbying members of the European Parliament over legislation that would lay down EU-wide rules for the sale of public-sector information to private companies and others.
A working paper, Towards a European Union Framework for the Exploitation of Public-sector Information , questions whether cultural and educational establishments including museums, universities, research facilities and medical laboratories should be included in a common regime.
Per Haugaard, European Commission spokesman for the information society, confirmed that commissioners would be asked to approve legislation for submission to the European Parliament and ministers within 90 days.
He said the commission was aware of the position of universities. "Clearly we are sensitive to intellectual property issues, and certain information will need to be protected." But he added that the existence of 15 different sets of rules in the EU made it very difficult for companies wanting to access information.
Mr Haugaard said that it was too early to say whether universities would be treated differently from government departments and other public bodies.
Some MEPs are opposed to the inclusion of universities in a general commercial system. Michael Cashman, Labour member for the West Midlands and the European Parliament's rapporteur on public access to EU documents, said that universities in his constituency had expressed worries to him.
He said: "We mustn't do anything to undermine intellectual property rights or copyright or overburden the universities." And while he shared the ideal of "the widest possible dissemination of information and the education that follows from it", Mr Cashman said there were problems where information held by a university might be of commercial value.
"One would have to move so as to not undermine such research departments, and that's where a respect for intellectual property rights would have to be to the forefront of any legislation," he said.