Investigating copyright

As the global community marked World Intellectual Property Day on April 26, an eight-country African research network was launched with a mandate to investigate the relationship between copyright and education in African countries.

The network, called the African Copyright and Access to Knowledge network (ACA2K network), is a multidisciplinary team of researchers from Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda, supported by a team of international advisers.

Between now and early 2010, the ACA2K team will gather research evidence and engage with policy-makers in an effort to ensure maximum use of flexibilities in copyright law that have the potential to increase access to learning materials in the study countries mentioned above. Access to both digital and hard-copy resources will be probed.

The ACA2K network comes out of the access to knowledge (A2K) paradigm within the intellectual property field — a paradigm that regards the protection and promotion of user access as a central objective of copyright law. The A2K approach seeks an appropriate balance between the rights of content users and the rights of the content rights-holders, with particular attention to the types of balancing necessary in developing country contexts. Elements of this approach connect with the World Intellectual Property Day focus on “encouraging creativity”, from the perspective of the developing world.

The eight initial study countries have been chosen to provide a wide range of African contexts, in terms of legal, linguistic, cultural and historical experiences and traditions.

The ACA2K network also has a clear focus on the opportunities and challenges offered by the digital internet era — in which there is greater access to learning materials, but also new technological, legal and behavioural barriers.

Over the next two years, ACA2K researchers in each of the eight study countries will investigate the “copyright environment” (policies, laws, regulations, practices, perceptions) in their respective countries in relation to access to their countries’ learning communities’ learning materials with an emphasis on tertiary university learning environments.

The network aims to find out which flexibilities in copyright law are being deployed in each of the study countries and the effects these flexibilities have on these countries.

Examples of important possible flexibilities are legal exceptions, limitations and regulations that cater for the use of learning materials in teaching, research and learning; distance education; adaptation and use of learning materials by the sensory-disabled; local-language translations of learning materials; and affordable local pricing of materials.

Also of concern to the network are the gender dynamics at play in the national copyright environments and in the realities of access to learning materials, both digital and hardcopy.

After the completion of the country studies, there will be a comparative review of the findings across the countries, presentations of research findings and policy recommendations through a national policy dialogue seminar in each country.

The ACA2K network is supported by Canada’s International Development Research Centre and South Africa’s Shuttleworth Foundation, and managed through the Link Centre, Wits University, Johannesburg.

The network held a methodology workshop in Johannesburg in January this year and has recently finalised a methodology guide. The guide is the roadmap for the project’s research and policy engagement activities between now and early 2010.

The ACA2K methodology guide and other information on the project can be found on the ACA2K’s website: www.aca2k.org.

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