By Denise Nicholson, CLM Expert Advisor

African countries have very different copyright laws, all at various stages of development and/or review. Some countries have very outdated copyright laws, whilst others have amended their copyright laws more recently, or are in the process of reviewing them, for example, Kenya and South Africa.

At the international and even regional levels, African countries have not taken into account the needs of libraries, archives, and education and research institutions in the past. Their laws often do not facilitate access or enable librarians and archivists to carry out their mandated responsibilities and functions. This is one of the reasons why the Africa Group proposed a Treaty on Limitations and Exceptions for Education and Research, Libraries and Archives and People with Disabilities in 2011. Although this proposal still forms part of the World Intellectual Property Organisation‘s (WIPO) Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights (SCCR) documentation for consideration, little or no progress has been made on it to date. 

African librarians and others representing the educational, library, archival and museum communities hoped they would find some progress and/or solutions when they attended the second of three WIPO regional seminar in Nairobi, Kenya 12-13 June 2019. These seminars form part of an action plan agreed upon by member states at the 36th session of the SCCR in Geneva. 

The theme of the Kenya workshop was to focus on the copyright challenges of libraries, archives and museums, as well as education and research, and to find solutions, especially to address digital issues and cross-border exchange of information. The meeting was chaired by Sylvie Forbin, Deputy Director General of WIPO, and the plenary session speakers were Professor Yaniv Benhamou, Professor Kenneth Crews, Professor David Sutton and Professor Raquel Xalabarder. Part of the 2-day workshop was dedicated to Challenges and Opportunities, which were discussed by member states and other participants in three parallel working groups, set up according to countries and languages (English and French).  

IFLA was represented at the meeting by Hala Essalmawi (Egypt) and Denise Nicholson (South Africa) whilst Jonathan Band (US) represented IFLA and ICA. Teresa Hackett represented EIFL, Teresa Nobre (Portugal) represented Communia and Pedi Anawi (Ghana) represented Education International. Razia Saleh, a senior archivist, represented the Nelson Mandela Foundation in South Africa. A number of teacher unions were also represented from South Africa, Ghana and Kenya. 

Together with the abovementioned representatives, librarians from a number of African countries played a crucial role in presenting examples of the responsibilities and functions of libraries and archives, and the daily challenges that they face because of inadequate copyright laws. They highlighted the lack of adequate or appropriate copyright limitations and exceptions for libraries and archives, as well as education and research, in their national legislation. Suggestions to address cross-border sharing of knowledge, as well as digitisation and preservation through an international instrument were offered as solutions by a number of library and education participants in their working groups. While some member states took note of this possible way forwards, others dismissed in favour of licensing or national interventions rather than international solutions. To that, observers pointed out that the option of licensing, promoted by many rights-owners present, is limited, expensive and does not address their needs or enable them to carry out their statutory mandates effectively.  

Whilst some member state officials supported an international instrument as a workable solution, others felt that national laws could be improved by states with inadequate or outdated legislation without international guidance. No clear solutions or consensus on the way forward for the African region was achieved with regard to the above challenges raised by representatives from libraries, archives, and museums, and educational and research institutions, but the exchange of intelligence will provide guidance for the next steps. 

The Next Steps

The results of these discussions at Kenya will be included in a report that includes the results of the meeting held in Singapore (29-30 Apil 2019), and the forthcoming meeting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (4-5 July 2019).  The final comprehensive report will form part of the discussions at the WIPO Global Conference in Geneva in October 2019, and will advise the WIPO SCCR on possible future action. IFLA, ICA, Communia and Education International and other related organisations will be attending the conference and all subsequent meetings of SCCR to continue to find a workable solution for libraries, archives, museums, education and research.