Copyright and education in Africa: Lessons on African copyright and access to knowledge


Work data:

Type of work: Article (academic)


Intellectual Property | Open Access


The African Copyright and Access to Knowledge (ACA2K) project is a pan-African research network of academics and researchers from law, economics and the information sciences, spanning Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. Research conducted by the project was designed to investigate the extent to which copyright is fulfilling its objective of facilitating access to knowledge, and learning materials in particular, in the study countries. The hypotheses tested during the course of research were that: (a) the copyright environments in study countries are not maximising access to learning materials, and (b) the copyright environments in study countries can be changed to increase access to learning materials. The hypotheses were tested through both doctrinal legal analysis and qualitative interview-based analysis of practices and perceptions among relevant stakeholders. This paper is a comparative review of some of the key findings across the eight countries.

An analysis of the legal research findings in the study countries indicates that national copyright laws in all eight ACA2K study countries provide strong protection, in many cases exceeding the terms of minimum protection demanded by international obligations. Copyright limitations and exceptions to facilitate access to learning materials are not utilised as effectively as they could be, particularly relating to the digital environment. Distance learning, the needs of disabled people, the needs of students, teachers, educational institutions, libraries and archives are inadequately addressed. To the extent that copyright laws address the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICTs), they do so primarily in a manner that further restricts access to learning materials. In summary, national copyright frameworks in the study countries are not geared for maximal access to learning materials, and are in need of urgent attention.

An analysis of qualitative research findings, gathered from the field in stakeholder interviews, suggests that a substantial gap exists between copyright law and copyright practice in each country studied. Many users who are aware of the concept of copyright are unable or unwilling to comply with it or to work within the user rights it offers because of their socioeconomic circumstances. In everyday practice, with respect to learning materials, vast numbers of people act outside legal copyright structures altogether, engaging (knowingly or unknowingly) in infringing practices in order to gain the access they need to learning materials.

In conclusion, evidence from the ACA2K project suggests that the copyright environments in the study countries can and must be improved by reforms that will render the copyright regimes more suitable to local developing country realities. Without such reform, equitable and non-infringing access to learning materials will remain an elusive goal in these countries.