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Recognizing Africa’s role in the global knowledge economy.

Reconciling Copyright with Creativity: New Insights from 2018 Conferences (Part II)


Helen Chuma-Okoro - May 10, 2019 - 0 comments

By Helen Chuma-Okoro and Nicole Tumaine

This is part two of Helen Chuma-Okoro and Nicole Tumaine’s’  blog post on the isnights retained from 2018 confereces, for part one, please click here.

As described in a previous article, Open AIR had the opportunity to attend the CC Summit, whose central theme was “On common ground: collaborate and participate”. The summit focused on many interesting topics centered around intellectual property and traditional knowledge within innovative communities.

Access to knowledge (A2K) is necessary to further innovation and creativity. Due to the exclusive nature of intellectual property rights (IPRs); the question of how to reconcile the restrictions contained in IP laws with the need for open A2K required to advance innovation and creativity has been dominant in international IP discourse. This question is especially prominent where countries of the Global South are concerned.

Last year, Open AIR researchers joined with other experts and stakeholders to examine this question at two international conferences in Toronto, Canada, namely Creative Commons (CC) 2018 Global Summit and the RightsCon. Thanks to Open AIR’s sponsorship, Helen Chuma-Okoro, a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship, was privileged to be able to participate in both conferences, while Nicole Tumaine, an Open AIR NERG, was able to accompany her at RightsCon. This is part two of a summary of what was observed and discussed, as viewed by both Open AIR attendees.

How Does Creativity Create?

Dr. Okediji gave an inspiring but sobering keynote at the Creative Commons Summit. In the context of law reforms, Dr. Okediji’s keynote was particularly illuminating by signalling the proper role of the CC Community in the process. She noted that creativity does not depend on copyright but on the availability of raw materials for creativity. This in turn depends on not only the right given to authors but also on the public. She decried the present state of copyright law which has created what she referred to as “a crisis of legitimacy”; particularly, from the perspective of countries of the Global South. Lack of institutional capacity and appropriate laws impede access to cultural goods in these countries. Also, copyright law does not do what it was created to do in countries of the Global South. Particularly, it rarely incentivises authors or uphold justifications for exceptions and limitations of copyright facilitating access or use.

Dr. Okediji maintained that Geneva (where the notion that creativity depends on copyright weighs more) is the wrong place to battle for copyright reforms that facilitate access to global culture. Also, that while multilateralism remains relevant in copyright reform, informal copyright reform processes incubated at the grassroots were also germane. This is because such processes are informed by the idea that copyright is not necessarily about the right to copy or control copying, but is about a means of institutionalising culture, knowledge and access through a robust public domain. She described informal processes, such as CC licenses, as the only hope of avoiding the current exclusivity of copyright and guaranteeing the right of everyone to participate equally in creating and sharing works created as was the original objective of copyright.

New Strategies in a Redefined World

With the disruption of copyright law by emerging technologies resonating strongly in session after session, it was evident that some strategies were no longer effective and new strategies were needed to replace or support them. There were sessions aimed at prospecting for such alternatives such as alternative ways of publishing and alternative licenses in delivery of training materials in cultural industries.

In the context of new models, the session on “LikeCoin: reinventing the Like” was particularly intriguing. It presented a model which incentivises the adoption of free licenses in the sharing of online content by enabling the remuneration of such works. Lack of incentive has been the foremost reason inhibiting the adoption of OA and free licenses like CC licenses by many creators. LikeCoin is a reinvention of the “like”, and enables a business model of CC licensed works through the use of the “like” command. It allows free licensed works to be rewarded by the number of times online users interact with the work by either liking it or creating derivative versions.

Not to be left out were gender issues which were given attention in the Uncommon women session. The session focused on celebrating women who have played significant roles in providing leadership in the open culture movement and sharing their experiences. This was important in encouraging inclusiveness, forging allies, and ensuring gender empowerment in advocacy.

RightsCon 2018

Not too long after, the city witnessed yet another gathering of stakeholders passionate about human rights in the digital age. This time it was the RightsCon, which was held at the Beanfield Centre from 16 to 18 May 2018. RightsCon provided an opportunity for participants with common interests to engage in sessions and discussions geared towards finding solutions to new threats on human rights arising from digital technology.

RightsCon was certainly broader than the CC Summit in scope as it addressed different aspects of human rights threatened by digital technology. However, a cross-cutting field with IP concerns was the track on international trade and the commons. Open AIR’s session focused on insights from its current research on how innovation is occurring in Africa in spaces and ways which challenge the current stereotypes of innovation and the role of (or lack) IP. In addition, it discussed Open AIR’s ongoing efforts to actively include gender and women’s empowerment in its research, specifically through the QES-AS program; a program that aims to provide Doctoral, Post-Doctoral, and Early Career Researchers an opportunity to conduct research in gender and IP with one or more of the Open AIR hubs under the supervision of the principle investigators. Concerns were expressed on the current trend by developed countries pushed by their capitalist institutions to extend digital rights beyond the TRIPS standards. This was in addition to the session on the effects of free trade agreements on inventions and innovations still in the realm of the TRIPS-plus concerns.

Conclusion

The events were truly enlightening and inspiring in many ways. One important take away from the CC Summit was that openness or open culture was becoming more imperative and yet equally more threatened. The easier it became to share online content, the higher the standards of protection were pushed. One of the solutions was finding alternatives to ensure continued benefits of culture by all instead of just a few private interests. The messages in both events were in many ways cross-cutting with issues of concern to Open AIR underscoring the importance of an African specific interrogation of, and narrative on, issues at the intersection of innovation and IP/knowledge governance. This underscores a need for alternative frameworks for regulating not just IP, including copyright, but OA; a concern which Open AIR research addresses by helping in shaping future relevant laws and policies address that need. You can read more about Open AIR’s presence at RightsCon in Tumaine’s blog post.