Fears that a trip to the photocopier could lead to copyright infringement could become a thing of the past if a new funding council scheme is successful.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England is to sign national licensing agreements with three major academic publishers - Blackwell, Academic Press and the Institute of Physics - which will give institutions free access to their publications.
Under the scheme HEFCE will pay the publishers a sum equivalent to their annual income from academic libraries, then recoup the money from institutions - precise mechanisms for this still have to be determined. If successful, the scheme should eventually be extended to other publishers.
It arises out of research done for the Follett inquiry into library provision, which found that copyright and the price of journals were quoted consistently as serious problems. A group led by Sir Brian Follett, joined by HEFCE head of policy Bahram Bekhradnia and Graham Zellick, principal of Queen Mary and Westfield College and the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals' copyright expert, went to the United States to see how the American Association of Universities and the Association of Research Libraries were dealing with the problem.
Mr Bekhradnia said the scheme should help not only users - who will get the right to copy and store material - but the publishers. "The current pattern is for journal prices to rise, followed by cancellations and further price rises. This way the publishers should stabilise their income and see their publications circulate more widely."