ACADEMIC writers must keep hold of the copyright to their work or risk losing millions of pounds in income, the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society has warned.
Authors will be able to claim payments from photocopying articles and papers in journals for the first time next year, under a new agreement between writers and publishers. But authors can only claim this money if they resist increasing pressure from publishers and institutions to hand over their rights.
In the past, publishers took all the money secured by the Copyright Licensing Agency for photocopying pieces from trade and academic journals. This amountedto Pounds 2 million in the last financial year alone.
Under the new arrangements, a quarter of the photocopying fees from material published in the 12 months to the end of December will be distributed directly to authors, so long as the publisher controls less than 90 per cent of the reproduction rights.
Universities are also looking to profit more from written pieces, on-line sale of articles, CD-Roms and site-licensing.
ALCS vice chair Mary Underwood said: "Now that universities have become incorporated and are responsible for balancing their books, they are much more conscious of the value of the work done in their institutions."
She said rows over copyright increasingly were becoming an issue in employment contracts. Copyright belongs to authors until they assign it to somebody else, except when their employment contract includes a duty to write.
Pressure to produce work for the research assessment exercise is fuelling the arguments.
Charles Oppenheim, director of the International Institute for Electronic Library Research at De Montfort University, said he was aware of one case where an academic submitted an article to a journal, assigned copyright and was then charged Pounds 2,500 to distribute it to his students.
ALCS secretary general Christopher Zielinski said nearly Pounds 700 million worth of academic books were sold in Britain last year. He said: "It is more than ironic that the prime originators of such bounty - the writers - earn little or nothing."
But John Davies, director of the Council of Academic and Professional Publishers and of the Publishers Licensing Society, warned: "If authors want to retain their copyright, it's on the understanding that the journal might choose to publish something else."