Access to Knowledge in Africa: the role of copyright

February 2011

In this article, Dick Kawooya1, presents the recently published book Access to Knowledge in Africa: The Role of Copyright. The international interdisciplinary research project known as African Copyright and Access to Knowledge (ACA2K) started in 2008 with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and the Shuttleworth Foundation of South Africa. Its primary objective was to examine the impact of copyright on access to knowledge in Africa. As a response to the critical need for empirical research in this area, the project undertook a comparative study of eight African countries, namely, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. These countries are broadly representative of Africa’s linguistic, religious, political, economic and historic diversity, as well as its various legal traditions.

"Access to Knowledge in Africa: the
role of copyright” can be downloaded
free-of-charge at: and
is licensed under a Creative Commons

From the outset the project was geared towards practical, applied research with a view to providing “empirical evidence that could contribute positively towards copyright reform processes throughout the continent and internationally”. The aim was to create a network of African researchers who would gather evidence about the impact of copyright on access to educational and learning materials in the featured countries.

Researchers relied on legal doctrinal review, qualitative data gathering and comparative analysis to test two hypotheses: first, that the copyright environments in the countries studied currently do not maximize access to knowledge contained in learning materials; second, that changes can be made to these countries’ copyright environments to improve access. The book highlights some of the most significant findings of the research project. It is intended as a concrete contribution to the understanding of the legal and practical effects of copyright on access to learning materials in Africa, and as a possible model for future empirical research in support of evidence-based policymaking in this area.

“Even those who consider themselves experts on IP will benefit immensely from this book and the broader ACA2K project’s work.” (Sisule Musungu, President, IQsensato, Geneva)

The research revealed that all eight countries studied have copyright laws that meet, and in many cases exceed, the minimum international standards reflected in applicable international instruments and agreements. Findings revealed that no country studied takes advantage of all, or even most of, the flexibilities that exist in relevant international agreements. The study also highlights a “disconnect” between national copyright laws and on-the-ground practices in all the countries studied. It found that laws and policies governing copyright in most African countries are typically not grounded in the realities of African societies and are largely crafted without sufficient empirical evidence.

The book gives the reader an understanding of the legal and practical copyright issues associated with accessing learning materials in Africa. It offers an in-depth examination of copyright and access issues arising in each of the countries studied and a comparative analysis of findings across the countries studied. It is hoped that the insights and lessons drawn from the study will support policymakers in implementing the WIPO Development Agenda, as well as contribute to international discussions relating to exceptions and limitations under international copyright law.

1  *ACA2K Lead Researcher. Email:

The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.