Through the divine intervention of a Xerox 9400 copier, the resourceful Brother Dominic quickly provides his astonished abbot with 500 immaculate copies of illuminated manuscript.

The confounded monk can only roll his eyes to heaven and exclaim "it's a miracle".

But the miracle of Brother Dominic has proven to be a curse of the publishing industry. As publishing costs and prices have soared, the photo-copier has become everyman's printing press: people feel it's more convenient and more economical to duplicate published material rather than purchase it.

That attitude has had a corrosive effect on the sales and profits of many publishers. The music and newsletter segments of the industry have been particularly vulnerable to photocopier abuse: corporations will subscribe to one newsletter and proceed to make copies for all the executives in the company or a school will buy one packet of sheet music and then photocopy copies for the school choir.

"It's a very cute problem for us," says Leonard Feist, president of the Music Publishers Association, "and it's particularly acute with churches and schools making mass copies."

Feist points to an incident that would cause even Brother Dominic to blush. In the fall of 1976, a small religious music publishing house in Los Angeles filed a $180,000 lawsuit against the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, charging that parishioners were making illegal photocopies of hymnals and sheet music with the tacit approval of the archdiocese.At least one-half of the archdiocese's more than 400 churches were found to have used illegally photocopied material. The case has yet to come to trial.

Fred Bleakley, who heads Institutional Investor's four newsletters, calls photocopying, "a terrible problem."

He remembers the time he walked into a prestigious Wall Street investment banking house and spotted a pushcart piled with photocopies of an Institutional Investor newsletter. Bleakley managed to make a bulk subscription arrangement with the firm.

Other newsletter publishers have not been so fortunate. One publisher is angered that one of the nation's top ten companies has but one subscription to his newsletter and simply photocopies as internal demand requires.

George Lutjen, who handles McGraw-Hill's 27 newsletters, reports that "we know that there are subscribers who have only one subscription and copy."

One reason for the copying is the high price of the newsletters. Publishers admit the high costs are due in part to expected photocopying but they insist that price is still no excuse for violating a copyright.

The crux of the problem, they and other publishers feel, is that the photocopier is such an ubiquitous part of life. Photocopiers are so inexpensive and accessible that people don't think twice about the ethics or legality of copying someone else's work without reimbursement or fee. One publisher likens it to motorists breaking the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit. "Everyone does it," he says, "and no one really cares."

But Dave Swit, a Washington newsletter publisher and chairman of the Newsletter Association of America's copyright committee, takes a less charitable view: "It's a tradeoff between dollars an honesty and people know it. The dollars keep winning out."

What the publishing industry is looking for is a test case under the new copyright act, which went into effect this year. Publishers are generally happy with the new act.

The new copyright act differs substantially from the old Copyright Act of 1909 in that it includes provisions that deal with photocopy abuse including criminal penalties and damages up to $50,000.

A portion of the act that the newsletter publishers and the music publishers are giving special attention to is section 107, which embodies the "fair use" doctrine permitting reasonable copying. Most copyright lawyers agree that mass reproduction of newsletters for corporate use would constitute a violation of fair use.

Basically, though, it will be up to the courts to determine how strictly the fair use section should be interpreted so publishers plan to be very careful in selecting a test case under the new law.

Charles Laff, the attorney handling the suit against the Chicago Archdiocese, asserts: "Once you build a reputation as a copyright enforcer it won't be long before people avoid copying your publications. If you don't, people will just go their merry way."