COL as an information & knowledge provider   

Commonwealth Countries on Copyright Matters in Education

COL, together with experts in copyright, is assisting member countries to gain insights into the present copyright situation, by gathering experiences from developing countries and synthesising this for the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). In this way, COL is striving to help countries implement education-friendly legislation that makes access to learning content affordable for more people.

Africa Copyright and Access to Information Alliance formed

More than 120 experts in education, library and information science, law and technology from 16 African countries, Europe, India, North America and the United Kingdom attended the Africa Copyright Forum Conference in November 2005 in Kampala, Uganda. The pan-African event was jointly organised by the Uganda Library and Information Association (ULIA) and the National Library of Uganda (NLU) and sponsored by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and COL.

Focussing on "Copyright and Access to Information", the conference explored the important connection between copyright and education, research, innovation, publishing and the creative arts, and protection of indigenous information. At a time when countries need to ensure learning content is widely available, many African countries have excessively restrictive or outdated copyright laws (some still from colonial days). This makes accessing information and cross-border exchange of knowledge extremely difficult. While most developing countries are battling to meet even the minimum protection standards contained in multilateral Intellectual Property (IP) agreements (such as Berne and TRIPs), now they are being pressured to adopt even stricter copyright laws through Free Trade Agreements with developed countries.

International speakers at the Africa Copyright Forum Conference stressed the dangers of developing countries adopting the IP Chapter or TRIPS Plus regime in Free Trade Agreements, because the provisions far exceed the legal protection for intellectual property granted under previous international IP agreements. TRIPS Plus provisions would have a major detrimental impact on education, libraries, public health and development in general as they hamper access to essential information, educational and learning materials as well as cultural resources.

There was consensus that developing countries need more balanced and appropriate copyright laws and that attempts by developed countries to pressure them into adopting TRIPS Plus provisions must be strongly resisted. Conference participants agreed to form an Africa Copyright and Access to Information Alliance and an Interim Board was elected to start the process of addressing copyright and related issues in Africa, with particular reference to education, libraries and people with disabilities. Commonwealth countries need to ensure that an appropriate area of application for the fair use doctrine is preserved in the digital environment (digital rights management) and that restrictions on fair use of works imposed by legal and technical means must remain the exception.

COL will continue to work with experts in copyright to identify exceptions and limitations to copyright that are permitted by international agreements and necessary for a fair education policy. COL's fourth Pan Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from 30 October to 3 November 2006) will include sessions on copyright as it applies to developing countries.