Innovation in technology, in production of goods and services, in business processes, in formal and informal economic settings, in electronic media and audio-visual content, in music – all these and other fields of innovation sit on foundations of knowledge, either private or common, appropriated via various mechanisms, including intellectual property (IP) tools. For almost two decades, the movement for access to knowledge (A2K) has slowly emerged, seeking open approaches to appropriation and IP and giving rise to a range of new phenomena for investigation. In the age of the Internet, knowledge can flow easily across borders, across industries and economic sectors, and across and among economic and social interest groups. The availability of rich sources of knowledge for productive innovation can enrich the African continent – it is possible. However, policy, law and regulation have not kept pace with the rapid changes in the availability of knowledge. Outdated policy, law and regulation, or practice, may limit the potential for knowledge resources to have full economic or social impact. These and other research problems are explored in the articles and thematic reports in this thematic issue.
Ethiopia, one of the world’s poorest countries, has in the past two decades made significant strides in national educational attainment. However, the country’s educational policy objectives still face numerous barriers. In this piece the author argues that a key challenge for Ethiopia’s education system is access to knowledge (A2K), specifically access to copyright-protected scholarly and learning materials. The author proposes increased use of open-licensed materials, such as those licensed under the Creative Commons (CC) suite of licensing tools, which take a flexible
approach to copyright in order to allow users to, inter alia, engage in permission-free copying and re-distribution of the works. Greater use of such
open materials would, the author contends, produce cost savings for the Ethiopian government, allowing the state to increase its investments in other key components of the educational system such as facilities, Internet connectivity and teacher training and support.
Ethiopia’s private sector is dominated by micro and small enterprises (MSEs), many of them operating informally. Accordingly, a key challenge
for the country’s science, technology and innovation (STI) policymakers is finding ways to ensure that these small businesses absorb external
technological innovations in order to enhance their performance and allow for follow-on innovations. This policy objective has an access to
knowledge (A2K) dimension, because Ethiopia’s STI policies and strategies stress the need for improved MSE access to public domain patent
information as a means to improving technological absorption. However, research by the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office (EIPO) has found
that despite the efforts of the Ethiopian government to foster small-enterprise absorption of public domain technological information contained in
patent documents, MSE take-up of such technology tends to be poor (Belete, 2013).
In this piece, the author, former EIPO Director of Intellectual Property Policy and Planning, argues that the government’s emphasis needs to be
on building human capital in MSEs, in order to improve their capacity to absorb patent information. This argument draws on literature linking
technological absorption capacity to human capital levels, along with findings from an Ethiopian government survey of 3,000 MSEs (MUDC, 2013).
The author recommends improved MSE collaboration with intermediary organisations such as the country’s Technical and Vocational Education
and Training (TVET) institutions and industry development institutes.
This article seeks enhanced understanding of the dynamics of open innovation and knowledge appropriation in African settings. More
specifically, the authors focus on innovation and appropriation dynamics in African micro and small enterprises (MSEs), which are key engines
of productivity on the continent. The authors begin by providing an expansion of an emergent conceptual framework for understanding
intersections between innovation, openness and knowledge appropriation in African small-enterprise settings. Then, based on this framework,
they review evidence generated by five recent case studies looking at knowledge development, sharing and appropriation among groups
of small-scale African innovators. The innovators considered in the five studies were found to favour inclusive, collaborative approaches to
development of their innovations; to rely on socially-grounded information networks when deploying and sharing their innovations; and to
appropriate their innovative knowledge via informal (and, to a lesser extent, semi-formal) appropriation tools.
During and after the Arab uprisings in 2011, there was an outburst of creative production in Egypt and Tunisia, serving as a means to counter
state-controlled media and to document alternative narratives of the revolutions. One of the most prominent modes of creative output was
graffiti. Within an access to knowledge (A2K) framework that views graffiti as an important knowledge good, this article outlines the author’s findings
from research into perspectives towards revolutionary graffiti held by graffiti artists and graffiti consumers in Egypt and Tunisia. The main
quest of this work is to identify a copyright regime best suited to the priorities of both the revolutionary graffiti artists and the consumers
of this art, cognisant also of the possibilities offered by increasingly widespread use of, and access to, online digital platforms. The research
looked at how artists and consumers relate to the revolutionary graffiti, how they feel about its commercialisation, and how they feel about
the idea of protecting it with copyright. Based on the research findings, the author concludes that an A2K-enabling approach to preservation
and dissemination of the revolutionary graffiti – and an approach that would best cater to the needs of both the artists and the consumers – is
provided by the Creative Commons (CC) suite of flexible copyright licences.
Copyright’s interest in promoting creative production is often described as requiring a “balance” between exclusion and access rights. Owners
of copyright receive exclusive rights to control copies of their works, which enables authors to earn returns on their creations through sales
or licensing transactions. But as important to promoting creation are the user rights in copyright law which permit building on the work of
predecessors. The necessity for balance in order to promote creation is clearly evident in the documentary film industry, where producers
rely on copyright ownership to facilitate the dissemination of their works through broadcasters and other distributors, and on user rights to
incorporate excerpts of other copyrighted material in their work. This article draws on a collaborative South African research project that has been working since 2008 to document
influences of copyright law on the production of documentary films. The results of that research, summarised in the
first part of the article, show that South African filmmakers are hampered by a legal environment that denies them
copyright ownership in the majority of their projects while also denying them adequate rights to use, in their own
works, elements of the works of others. The second part of the article describes capacity-building approaches and
legal reforms that could be advantageous to the local film industry.