The Malawi national anthem talks about working together to develop our country. This, in my opinion, can among other things be achieved when there is more funding for research and development. Most of the developed countries of this world embraced science and technology. Most exciting research results in Malawi end in reputable international journals. Most of these results are ones that if they were commercialized they would transform our economy into a producing one.
Chances that research results are commercialized are somehow affected by copyright protection. In many countries including Malawi copyright protection is under “all rights reserved”. In this case the only exception is fair use and public domain. This leaves a big gap between exclusive rights and public domain and in my opinion the copyright owner is also not given freedom to share their work in ways that they want. Some writers in Malawi do not write solely for money. There are patriotic writers who after seeing Malawian students learning using content based on foreign experience have authored books with local content. Unfortunately, such writers have but one option only. License their work under exclusive rights. Does this method of licensing creative works make sense?
Much as there are people wanting exclusive rights over their work, there are yet others who would want freedom to share their work. Some would only want to be acknowledged when people use their work. Others would want their work to be used and re-used on non-commercial basis. Yet others would want their work to be shared in non-derivative form. There are other categories. These freedoms to share are not adequately addressed in our copyright act?
For a developing country like Malawi to achieve economic growth we cannot afford to live with ‘every man/woman for himself/herself’ attitude. While developing pro-poor economic programmes we should as well develop pro-poor copyright laws. Our researchers should be allowed to license their work with sharable options that will opportunities to improve their results. For instance, given these freedoms a researcher would develop some technology; publish their result under non-commercial and attribution. Another researcher would pilot the same results and publish how the technology can be adapted for rural people. In this manner, results that would otherwise be locked away by copyright laws would reach the intended beneficiaries. Remember ‘mutu umodzi susenza denga’ (no man is a jack of all trades). A more ethical example would be in the health sector where access to up-to-date and correct information can mean the difference between despondency and hope.
The world over, developing countries are lured into supporting initiatives that will work to their disadvantage. Fortunately, well-meaning people are initiating a comeback. The Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org), a project begun at Harvard Law School is one such initiative. Begun in 2001, the Creative Commons takes a “some rights reserved” approach as compared to the much talked about “all right reserved” approach. In May 2005 South Africa launched her Creative Commons licenses with a call to other African countries to liberate creators and consumers of works of arts but adopting “some rights reserved”. Another example is the Open Access movement, which has unlocked a wealth of knowledge that would otherwise be locked into commercial journals. Interestingly, Creative Commons has come up with licenses for developing countries. Imagine that content is given different allowable uses in developing countries than in developed world.
Living in the digital technology age we can no longer cling on to “all rights reserved” approach to licensing of creative works. How are we going to police adherence to “all rights reserved” copyright protection laws when every use of electronic piece of work creates a copy? After all, experts have always argued that originality is only a myth. All that is done is re-mixing of culture to come up with genre that is claimed to be original.
It is high time the academic sector in Malawi embraced open access publishing. It will be rewarding to find more academic articles by Malawians in open access journals. Why should foreigners be vigilant in making content available to us free of charge through open access publishing? In my opinion this needs to start with our copyright laws or putting in place parallel licensing that gives people freedom to give different allowable uses.