The government is to unveil controversial plans to make publicly funded scientific research immediately available for anyone to read for free by 2014, in the most radical shakeup of academic publishing since the invention of the internet.
Under the scheme, research papers that describe work paid for by the British taxpayer will be free online for universities, companies and individuals to use for any purpose, wherever they are in the world.
In an interview with the Guardian before Monday's announcement David Willetts, the universities and science minister, said he expected a full transformation to the open approach over the next two years.
The move reflects a groundswell of support for "open access" publishing among academics who have long protested that journal publishers make large profits by locking research behind online paywalls. "If the taxpayer has paid for this research to happen, that work shouldn't be put behind a paywall before a British citizen can read it," Willetts said.
"This will take time to build up, but within a couple of years we should see this fully feeding through."
He said he thought there would be "massive" economic benefits to making research open to everyone.
Though many academics will welcome the announcement, some scientists contacted by the Guardian were dismayed that the cost of the transition, which could reach £50m a year, must be covered by the existing science budget and that no new money would be found to fund the process. That could lead to less research and fewer valuable papers being published.
British universities now pay around £200m a year in subscription fees to journal publishers, but under the new scheme, authors will pay "article processing charges" (APCs) to have their papers peer reviewed, edited and made freely available online. The typical APC is around £2,000 per article.
Tensions between academics and the larger publishing companies have risen steeply in recent months as researchers have baulked at journal subscription charges their libraries were asked to pay.
More than 12,000 academics have boycotted the Dutch publisher Elsevier, in part of a broader campaign against the industry that has been called the "academic spring".
The government's decision is outlined in a formal response to recommendations made in a major report into open access publishing led by Professor Dame Janet Finch, a sociologist at Manchester University. Willetts said the government accepted all the proposals, except for a specific point on VAT that was under consideration at the Treasury.