One of Britain's biggest publishing bodies has produced a draft "licence to publish" that promises to result in many of its members handing over copyright on journal articles to their authors.
The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers has developed the licence in response to a survey that highlighted academics' increasing concern over copyright issues.
Sally Morris, secretary-general of ALPSP, said: "The retention of copyright and, perhaps more important, broad rights to reuse their own work, including electronically, are of growing importance to authors."
The model licence is not official but ALPSP hopes its members will adopt it or modify it. Ms Morris said bodies such as the British Medical Association, through the British Medical Journal, had already committed themselves to offering copyright ownership to authors. Other publishers are likely to follow the BMJ's example.
Ms Morris said: "It will be interesting to see to what extent attracting authors to publishers of certain journals is going to depend on their handing copyright over to the authors."
One hundred and sixty organisations, including all the major learned societies, belong to ALPSP. Affiliate members include major publishers such as Blackwell and Elsevier.
Ms Morris said that in practice the ownership of copyright should make no difference to the routes by which papers are published. More important was the psychological impact. "The survey showed copyright is special to academics. It is their work, it belongs to them and they obviously feel very attached to it. Having copyright symbolises that."
Ian Bannerman, journal sales director at Blackwell Science, said he was "reasonably relaxed" about the proposal. He added: "As long as we can secure the rights we need to exploit the work on behalf of authors, there should not be a problem."
Stevan Harnad, a leading electronic communications researcher and professor of cognitive science at Southampton University, said the model licence would help clarify copyright issues for the online environment.
Professor Harnad said: "The copyright is retained by the author, who can then still give the work away, but all rights to sell, on paper or online, are licensed to the publisher. This allows academics to publicly self-archive their work for free-for-all, online, as they have wanted to do all along."