The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has asked the Copyright Tribunal to review the terms and conditions of the Higher Education Copyright Arrangement instead of entering into renegotiations with the Copyright Licensing Agency over the future of the photocopying agreement.
Peter Shepherd, the CLA's chief executive, said that the CVCP's decision to shelve renegotiations before they had even started was "extraordinarily premature".
"We are mystified by the CVCP's reference to the tribunal at this early stage. I will be surprised if they actually go through with it as it will be an expensive process," Mr Shepherd said.
"Turning to the Copyright Tribunal means that the CVCP will throw away all of the concessions they gained during the last negotiations, and universities may find that charges will increase as a result of this action," he added.
But Alan Story, a spokesperson for the Copyright in Higher Education Workgroup, welcomed the CVCP's move.
"We are now at the ludicrous stage where the CLA requires a university teacher to charge copyright royalty charges when distributing their own work. The purpose of copyright should be to stimulate intellectual promotion, but the existing scheme stifles the use of our resources."
Under the terms agreed in 1998, the CLA collects revenues from universities and colleges to reimburse academics for the use of their intellectual property. As well as a blanket licence fee of Pounds 3.25 per student per year, universities are charged royalty fees for material used in course packs and for reproducing embedded illustrations.
After a report earlier this year claimed that academic authors were being short-changed, the CVCP said that the three-year agreement would be subject to a "root-and-branch review".
A CVCP spokesperson said: "There have been growing concerns about many aspects of the current licence agreement. These have been compounded by the announcement last year that the CLA proposed to vary the terms of the licence. Enough is enough."