By Heather Ford ACCRA, Ghana, 01 March 2005
Creative Commons could be a very useful initiative in West Africa, but there are a number of challenges that need to be taken into consideration before we will see any significant African participation in the global movement. This was the general consensus of participants at a workshop held by the APC in collaboration with the Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT in Accra, Ghana at the beginning of February.
The event was organized in parallel to the African regional preparatory conference of the World Summit on the Information Society and drew participants out of ‘big picture’ policy discussions to talk about a practical tool for the digital commons that is being adopted by countries around the world.
Today, over 4.5 million works have been licenced as free to copy, share and distribute under the Creative Commons banner – including educational material, material developed out of public or donor funds as well as countless audio tracks, films and photographs.
Creative Commons, led by internet legal guru Lawrence Lessig, was launched in 2001 as a response to the growing need for an alternative to copyright in the United States. Inspired by the free and open source software movement that was using copyright law to carve out certain ‘public’ uses of privately-owned knowledge, Creative Commons developed a set of user-friendly licenses which would enable creators to share their work under conditions set by their author. By tagging works as free to copy and share, Creative Commons also established a means for artists to draw inspiration from a fast-growing repository of free culture.
Countries like Brazil have made significant contributions to the Creative Commons movement. Driven by a strong collaboration between the government, civil society and legal sectors, Creative Commons in Brazil has developed a new CC licence that enables authors and artists to ‘remix’ creative works, and has inspired a set of revolutionary ‘commons’ policies on intellectual property rights for public innovation, software development and education.
But many developing countries – especially those in Africa – have yet to fully embrace the open content concept. This is because of a number of factors – most importantly Africans’ general distrust of ‘giving away’ information when indigenous knowledge is being regularly ‘stolen’ by people outside of the community.
But according to Guido Sohne, who is trying to drum up local support for a Creative Commons Ghana initiative, Creative Commons licences enable community artists, authors and creators to gain access to foreign markets by raising awareness of their work and their identity on the internet.
APC project manager, Heather Ford, said that there are a number of gains to be made by the use of Creative Commons licences, especially when the licence is used within an open space that encourages collaboration and transparency. An educational portal that enables the local community to share and improve lesson plans, for example, ensures that the government can spend less on purchasing educational resources. The quality of the content also improves as more and more people contribute towards its successful re-use.
Dorothy Gordon, Director of the Kofi Annan Centre, concluded that Creative Commons was an exciting initiative for West Africa, but one which would have to be developed in a way that addressed all elements of the digital publishing process: the people, the communities, the infrastructure, the access, as well as the capacity to create and share knowledge. Only then will we see any significant ownership by local communities to a free and open African knowledge commons.