All eight of New Zealand's universities are being taken to the New Zealand Copyright Tribunal for refusing to agree to an increased annual licence fee which allows lecturers to copy authors' work for students.
After a year of negotiations, Universities New Zealand (UNZ) refused to budge on the present $20 fee per student, which was agreed in 2007, resulting in Copyright Licensing New Zealand (CLNZ) filing a case with the tribunal.
CLNZ chief executive Paula Browning said it would be the first time the Copyright Tribunal had investigated what universities were paying for licence fees.
The licensing scheme, operated by CLNZ, ensures authors and publishers are being fairly paid for the use of their work.
Ms Browning said universities had to obtain appropriate licences to legally provide large amounts of copied course material to students outside what was allowed under the Copyright Act.
Without a licence, universities could not charge for course packs and students would have to buy the whole book or publication, she said.
"Despite increases in the average number of pages being copied per student, and the ability the licence gives universities to provide copies electronically to students, the universities aren't prepared to agree to the modest $6 increase in the annual fee sought, which hasn't been adjusted in over five years," she said.
"Many universities have been increasing student fees by the maximum allowable annually. They then also charge students to receive each individual course pack.
"Each year, students will generally be required to purchase multiple course packs spread across two semesters.
"Fees charged per pack are significant - up to $85 in some cases. At the same time, the universities are paying just $20 per student per year to compensate authors and publishers whose works are included in the course packs."
Ms Browning said CLNZ was a non-profit organisation seeking a four-year deal with an annual licence fee of $26 per equivalent full-time student for 2013, adjusted each year to match inflation.
The Copyright Tribunal is mandated to investigate what a reasonable fee is, taking into account all relevant circumstances.
If the tribunal upholds the new fee proposed by CLNZ, Ms Browning said it had the discretion to backdate it to take effect from March 1, 2013.
A timetable for the matter to be heard before the Copyright Tribunal has not been set.
Ms Browning said the universities' licence expired in December last year, and CLNZ had since extended it to February 28, pending the completion of negotiations on the new fee.
The University of Otago declined to comment and directed the Otago Daily Times to Universities New Zealand.
A UNZ spokeswoman said CLNZ had chosen, without consultation, to refer its demands to the Copyright Tribunal.
The universities were now considering their response to the action and did not wish to comment further.