Earlier this year, CIPIT traveled to South Africa to participate in and attend a Conference dubbed “A Right to Research in Africa? A Week of Debates on Copyright and Access to Knowledge”; which was held from 23rd to 27th of January 2023.

Organized by the Black Stripe Foundation in partnership with EIFL (Electronic Information for Libraries), the conference focused on how copyright law can help promote research and creativity in Africa, in fields as diverse as health, climate change research, natural language processing and machine learning, arts and culture as well as through the preservation activities of libraries and cultural heritage institutions. Partners and speakers included representatives of top universities, cultural heritage institutions, and copyright officials from South Africa, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, Zimbabwe, the United States, Switzerland, Canada, and Brazil.

Held at both the University of Pretoria (23rd and 24th Jan 2023) and the University of Cape Town (26th and 27th Jan 2023), day 1 and 2, hosted by Future Africa, University of Pretoria, featured the works of researchers engaged in text and data mining on African languages, climate modeling, and African leadership on the Right to Research (R2R). Day 3, hosted by the University of Cape Town IP Unit, focused on the digitization of African cultural heritage, and AI in Africa in health research and digital humanities. Day 4 concluded by looking at future work at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and beyond, and included private meetings for civil society advocates and academics.

CIPIT, represented by Dr. Melissa Omino (Acting Director CIPIT), Dr. Angeline Wairegi (Acting Research Manager and Senior Research Fellow A.I), Chebet Koros (Research Fellow IP and Innovation), and Cynthia Nzuki (Research Assistant IP), participated and were panelists in session 1 titled “Digital research tools – what’s happening in Africa?” and session 2 titled “Does Africa have a Right to Research in Law?” (watch here).

Dr. Angeline Wairegi presented on whether there is a climate copyright catastrophe when it comes to understanding climate change and supporting farmers. In her submissions, she highlighted that the type of data required and used in climate change research is factual information; pointing out that ease of access to such data and information is vital to the success of valuable research around climate change. Dr. Melissa Omino spoke on the rights text and data miners/researchers require in order to train natural language processing tools; and Chebet Koros spoke on whether the copyright exceptions under Kenyan law provide an enabling environment for text and data mining research. In her submissions, Dr. Melissa Omino highlighted that there is a need to test the practicality of existing fair dealing/fair use laws which calls for courts to step in and interpret the existing laws. Ms. Chebet submitted that though the Kenyan law does provide a copyright exception for scientific research, there lacks a proper definition or interpretation of what scientific research entails and that the copyright exception is therefore unclear.

Other key submissions that were discussed included submissions on the challenges text and data miners have encountered when trying to access data for purposes of research, especially with national broadcasting corporations. One of the speakers pointed out that as a result of there being no clear understanding on how best to handle the practical challenges that come with trying to access data and information for research purposes, could make the progress of research unpredictable. Another speaker highlighted that, from an international perspective, there is no provision for the right to research per se, even so they located this right under article 15(1)(b) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights1, which states that “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone: (b) To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications…”. Moreover, to further demonstrate the value and importance of access to knowledge, another speaker shared about the fires that broke out at the University of Cape Town in April 2021, which damaged or destroyed a number of historic structures and campus buildings leading to the loss of priceless artifacts related to African history.2 They pointed out that the existing South African copyright exception laws hindered the preservation of material in the library and stressed the importance of having the law support efforts to conserve and maintain heritage.

Currently, CIPIT is undertaking research on the link between technology policy objectives in Kenya and domestic, regional, and international copyright policy. The research includes investigating the right to research and text and data mining in Africa, focusing in particular on the copyright exception for research in Kenya and comparing it to South Africa, and other African countries.

2 Nora McGreevy, “Why the Cape Town Fire Is a Devastating Loss for South African Cultural Heritage” ,

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked