Copyright inspectors may swoop on schools in future to ensure that they are not photocopying more textbooks than their agreed quota.
The new arrangement, which will involve schools keeping detailed records of how much they copy, is a condition of the new licensing agreement which otherwise might have meant enormous rises in fees payable by local authorities.
LEAs now fear that other battles over copyright may be imminent. A group called the Christian Copyright Licensing Agency has begun action to get fees from religious material used in assemblies, while the Performing Rights Society is seeking an 80 per cent increase over three years for music used in dance classes.
A survey by the Copyright Licensing Agency discovered that four times the amount of photocopying previously assumed to be the norm was occurring - around 40 sheets per year per pupil. On this basis, the CLA first sought increased rates of around 300 per cent - far more than the LEAs could afford.
The compromise agreement, which has taken months of delicate negotiations, involves an initial rise of almost 16 per cent - from Pounds 1.9 million to Pounds 2.2m to cover every LEA, increasing to Pounds 2.5m and Pounds 2. 8m in subsequent years. However, that is on the basis of an average 20 copies per year per pupil, which education authorities are able to allocate between different schools. Schools will be required to keep detailed records of all they copy, and those exceeding their annual quota will find themselves buying into extra "bands" of copying at an average 4p per page. No agreement has yet been reached between the CLA and grant-maintained or independent schools, but a new survey of photocopying will take place before the current agreement runs out.
Jonathan Owen, policy officer of the Association of County Councils, said increased photocopying had been an indication of the scheme's success. "Having encouraged a thirsty man to drink, they've moved from water rates to water metering," he said.
Gillian Maskens, schools licensing officer for the CLA, said its inspectors from other departments would be asked to check the workings of the agreement in schools. She said the agency believed its survey had picked up a certain amount of under-estimation and under-reporting.
"Schools monitoring what they are copying in this way will result in an overall reduction which will benefit both copyright and non-copyright work, " she said, suggesting that schools might use different machines for administrative and text-copying work to help the figures tally with the official record.
Local authorities have argued that photocopying had increased because schools were loath to buy extra copies of books that might have to be rewritten because of changes to the national curriculum.