Surveying copyright legislation in the Global South

Last year an announcement on IFLA’s e-mail discussion list, IFLA-L alerted me to the appearance of a new copyright guide for Brazilian libraries, Guia para bibliotecas: Direitos autorais  e acesso ao conhecimento, informação e cultura [Guide for libraries: Authors’rights and access to knowledge, information and culture]  (Couto et al. 2022). Issued as an ebook, it is intended to help librarians navigate their way through legislation that governs access to knowledge, information and culture, in such a way that optimum use is made of the rights of libraries and their users. Librarians should obey the law, without being so intimidated by the complexity of laws and regulations that users are deprived of access to resources to which they are legally entitled.

This reminded me of two regional surveys of copyright legislation in the Global South. In 2019 I became aware of a survey of the copyright legislation of the countries of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region (Ferreira 2019), which formed an instructive contrast with a study of copyright in a number of African countries (Armstrong et al. 2010). I had referred to the African study in my book as an example of an international comparative study in LIS (Lor 2019, 194; 203), but I could not refer to the LAC study as my book was already in the press. It is interesting from a methodological point of view to compare the two studies, which now follows belatedly.

Access to knowledge in Africa

Front cover of ACA2K report

The first study, Access to knowledge in Africa: The role of copyright, was the result of the African Copyright and Access to Knowledge (ACA2K) research project. This 366-page book was edited by Chris Armstrong, Jeremy de Beer, Dick Kawooya. Achal Prabhala, and Tobias Schonwetter, and published in 2010 by the University of Cape Town Press. Available on open access, it is of interest, among other things, as an international collaborative study involving eight research teams, in Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, and South Africa. These countries amount to only 6,75% of the 54 African countries recognized by the UN, but they are representative of Africa’s subregions and of the political and legal systems they inherited from their former colonial powers.

The research was informed by a “long-term vision for copyright regimes in African education systems”, regimes that maximize access to learning resources. To achieve this, they wanted to create a network of African copyright researchers empowered to contribute to policymaking on copyright (p.7). Concrete objectives were set for achieving the vision. This was not abstract, but rather practical, applied research. Their mainly qualitative methodology encompassed three components in each of the eight countries: The first, a legal/doctrinal review of copyright law covering that country’s statutes and court decisions and interpreting them in a broad framework also encompassing other laws and constitutional principles, was at the heart of the study. Both primary and secondary sources on various copyright issues, such as copyright protection, licensing and enforcement were used. The second component was a qualitative analysis which sought to gather empirical evidence of the “pragmatic” (real-world) effects of the copyright laws on access to educational resources. For this purpose, the  methodology of “qualitative impact assessment interviews” was used (for an example see Wright 2003). Interviews were conducted with key stakeholders: policymaking and copyright enforcement agencies, educational communities, copyright holders and content creators. It was supported by a literature review. This component was important because there can be a considerable gap between what laws stipulate and what actually happens. The third component was a comparative review bringing together and contrasting the results relating to the individual countries. As an overall framework the ‘outcome mapping’ (OM) technique was used, which “focuses a project’s efforts on making and monitoring contributions to behavioural change among individuals and institutions that the project comes into contact with” (p.10). For more on Outcome Mapping, a methodology developed by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), see Hearn (2021).

Quantitative data were also collected but played a minor part; this was not a “mixed methods” project. The study is interesting from a methodological perspective, since an explicit and informative rationale is given for the approach that was adapted, including use of in-country teams, and their coordination. Given the diverse teams, thorough training and the provision of methodology guidelines were important. ACA2K project reports and methodology guidelines are archived in the ACA2K Output Repository at the University of Cape Town, but ironically are not available on open access. (How often are we not referred to literature on intellectual property and scholarly communication, only to find that interesting material is locked up behind a paywall or other barrier!)

Small-N or large-N?

Researchers conducting international country comparisons mostly have to choose between small-N and large-N studies. Small-N or few-country comparisons refers to studies involving a limited number of countries (sometimes no more than twenty, but mostly far fewer), while large-N or many-country refer to more than twenty countries. This is not merely a matter of arithmetic. If the situation in a small number of countries is studied, it is possible to do so in greater depth than when a large number of countries are involved. This is generally reflected in the difference between case-oriented studies and variable-oriented studies, which are typically found in small-N and large-N studies respectively. In a case-oriented study the individual countries are considered in their historical specificity. All relevant contextual factors are taken into account. These studies mostly have a qualitative orientation, where the researcher seeks to understand, rather than to prove. This is feasible because there are not so many cases (countries) to be studied. When a large number of countries is to be considered it becomes prohibitively onerous to do so in depth. Here a quantitative approach is mostly adopted, with the researcher attempting to survey and describe a broad canvas.

Clearly, the ACA2K project was a small-N study. That of Ferreira and her colleagues covered 15 countries, almost twice as many. Does that make it a small-N or a large-N comparison? To answer that question, we need to look not just at the numbers but also at the research approach.

Copyright limitations and exceptions in Latin America and the Caribbean

Front cover of report on copyright in Latin America and the Caribbean

The second study is entitled Bibliotecas LAC: El impacto de la legislación de derechos de autor en América Latina y el Caribe [LAC libraries: The impact of the authors’ rights legislation in Latin America and the Caribbean] (Ferreira 2019). “Derechos de autor” can conveniently be translated as “copyright”, but they are not exact equivalents.[i]

This 187-page book, mainly in Spanish, was edited by Brazilian scholar Sueli Mara Soares.



This 187-page book, mainly in Spanish, was edited by Brazilian scholar Sueli Mara Soares Pinto Ferreira, a co-author of the Brazilian copyright guide cited above. It was the result of a project, “Impact of legislation on copyright in libraries in Latin America and the Caribbean”, carried out by the Standing Committee of IFLA’s Section for Latin America and the Caribbean. It is available from the website of FEBAB, Federação Brasileira de Associações de Bibliotecários, Cientistas da Informação e Instituições, the Brazilian federation of LIS associations and institutions.

The project aimed to identify and record the main difficulties, problems and situations that libraries face daily due to the lack of updating, complexity or absence of national copyright laws in the region. One of the specific objectives was to verify the worldwide survey of copyright exceptions and limitations by Kenneth Crews (2008) in so far as it related to the LAC.  The survey had been conducted by Crews for the Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and was subsequently updated and expanded by him (Crews 2015; 2017).

It is worth noting that, like the ACA2K project, the LAC project also had an avowed practical and ameliorative goal: to disseminate testimonies and stories nationally and internationally that clearly illustrate the situation of LAC libraries, and demonstrate the need and urgency of changes in both the legal and practical aspects:

[The book] is intended to serve as an instrument of support for professionals in the region regarding: (a) the development of more forceful strategies and actions to seek legal balance in their countries in respect of copyright law, (b) the identification of the main discussion points on the subject of limitations and exceptions to copyright, (c) the insertion of the subject in the program and disciplines of the undergraduate courses and graduate programs in library science and information science of the different countries and, finally, (d) the dissemination of the results achieved here with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, in order to establish a network of exchange and support between professionals in the region. (pp.23-24)

Library organizations in 35 countries were invited to participate in the project; of these, 16 countries participated and reported their results at a session during IFLA’s World Library and information Congress in 2016. They were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago. This book was compiled on the basis of the presentations, but lacks a contribution from Colombia.

Chapter 2, in which the methodology is described, is of particular interest. The study was conceptualized as survey research. It was carried out by national teams in the individual countries. A list of over fifty collaborators from these countries is given. They comprised members of national library associations and library schools, with additional experts as necessary. During the survey period the teams were able to interact, ask questions and share experiences through a restricted Facebook page. This is good practice to ensure methodological equivalence in international survey research. The teams were provided with a quite detailed “semi-open-ended” questionnaire comprising 17 questions, each allowing for additional comments.  The questions sought to gauge respondents’ knowledge of the copyright limitations and exceptions in the legislation of their country in relation to their libraries’ collections and services (pp.181-185). The questionnaire was distributed in Spanish and English. It was distributed to the national teams to use in the manner that was most convenient to them (p.39), individual or group interviews being suggested for the collection of evidence of the professionals’ experiences and demand for services. For the interviews the questionnaire could be used. In addition, a list of more open-ended questions was provided.

The respondents were selected differently in the various countries depending on their situations. In some countries key persons were identified, in others attendance at a national event provided an opportunity, or a snowball method was used. Because there are few qualified personnel in some of the countries, not all the participants were qualified librarians. Samples were of different sizes, but teams were instructed to include representatives of all types of libraries.

The methodology is described quite fully and serves as a useful illustration of one of the principles of international comparative research, where it is seldom possible to apply identical sampling, observational and questioning procedures and instruments in every country. Instead, the research teams should strive for equivalent sampling, observational and questioning procedures and instruments (cf. Hantrais 2009, 76–85).

Chapter 3 presents a quite detailed country-by-country analysis and discussion of the findings. Jamaica (pp.101-110) and Trinidad and Tobago (pp.145-152) are good examples. They are in English, the other country reports except for Haiti (in French) being presented in Spanish. Data are succinctly but somewhat awkwardly presented in tables in an innovative colour-coded infographic style. Each country section concludes with a thorough and insightful discussion, in which typical comments from respondents are also cited.

In Chapter 4 “Regional results” are presented, with comparative tables listing the situation in the responding countries side-by-side, covering their data collection procedures, numbers of responses, types of libraries represented; then summarizing the presence or absence of limitations and exceptions of various kinds in the surveyed countries. All this summarized in a map (p.162). Aspects covered include lending of printed and digital works, technological protection methods, legal deposit, preservation, accessible formats, out-of-commerce works, retracted works, orphan works, data mining, etc.  Situations where user demand is in conflict with existing laws are discussed. In the tables and map the countries’ results are juxtaposed with some discussion, with many explanatory comments and comments on outliers.

In the concluding chapter (5), the editor points out that the results must be read against the background of the differing legal contexts of the individual countries. Many of the laws are unclear and inadequate. There is a need for educating LIS professionals. Many countries are revising their laws and the library associations and schools need to be involved.  Priorities and strategies for action are discussed briefly; implementation of the Marrakech Treaty offers a good opportunity for initial action.

Comparative comments

There are some interesting differences between the two studies. The most obvious difference is that the LAC study covered twice as many countries. The LAC study focussed more narrowly on exceptions and limitations and how they are understood and experienced by librarians. It covered many countries in somewhat less depth. It was conceived as a survey.  A lot of the findings are presented in tables and figures. It looks more “quantitative”, but includes significant qualitative components. Considering how many countries were included, the depth of coverage of individual countries is impressive. It is nowhere described as a mixed methods study (cf. Lor 2019, 236–38) but that is the best way to describe it.

The ACA2K study covered fewer countries, but the inclusion of eight countries was a considerable achievement. Essentially a qualitative study of the impact of copyright legislation on a the wider community, not only librarians, it included an in-depth review of both primary and secondary sources on various copyright issues, such as copyright protection, licensing and enforcement in each country, and focused on the “real world” impact of copyright law on access to educational resources. The qualitative methodology of “impact assessment interviews” was applied to policymaking and copyright enforcement agencies, educational communities, copyright holders and content creators.

Both must be considered as small-N studies. In both cases each country is dealt with in some depth. Both are good examples of international comparative research carried out successfully by well-coordinated in-country research teams. Each produced valuable data and insights, and each enhanced local capacity as part of the research process. The two methodologies are complementary. Just imagine how interesting it would be if the two continents repeated the exercise, using each other’s procedures…



Armstrong, Chris, Jeremy De Beer, Dick Kawooya, Achal Prabhala, and Tobias Schonwetter, eds. 2010. Access to Knowledge in Africa: The Role of Copyright. Cape Town: UCT Press.

Couto, Walter Eler do, Sueli Mara Soares Pinto Ferreira, Mariana G. Valente, and Allan Rocha da Souza. 2022. Guia para bibliotecas: Direitos autorais  e acesso ao conhecimento, informação e cultura. São Paulo, Brazil: Federação Brasileira de Associações de Bibliotecários, Cientistas da Informação e Instituições (FEBAB), Comissão Brasileira de Direitos Autorais e Acesso Aberto (CBDA3).

Crews, Kenneth D. 2008. “Study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries and Archives.” Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights. Seventeenth session, Geneva, November 3 to 7, 2008. Document SCCR/17/1 dated August 26, 2008. Geneva: World Intellectual Property Organization.

Crews, Kenneth D. 2015. “Study on Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries and Archives: Updated and Revised.” Document SCCR/29/3. Geneva: World Intellectual Property Organization.

Crews, Kenneth D. 2017. Study on Copyright Limitations for Libraries and Archives; Updated and Revised (2017 Edition). Standing Committee on Copyright and Related Rights, SCCR/35/6. Geneva, Switzerland: World Intellectual Property Organization.

Ferreira, Sueli Mara Soares Pinto, ed. 2019. Bibliotecas LAC: El impacto de la legislación de derechos de autor en América Latina y el Caribe [Libraries LAC: The impact of copyright legislation in Latin America and the Caribbean]. São Paulo, Brazil: FEBAB.

Hantrais, Linda. 2009. International Comparative Research: Theory, Methods and Practice. Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hearn, Simon. 2021. “Outcome Mapping.” Better Evaluation. November 6, 2021.

Lor, Peter Johan. 2019. International and Comparative Librarianship: Concepts and Methods for Global Studies. Global Studies in Libraries and Information 4. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter/Saur.

Wright, Katie. 2003. “Problems? What Problems? We Have None at All: Qualitative Data Collection for Impact Assessment.” Journal of Microfinance 5 (1): 115–37.


[i] Authors’ rights include both moral and “patrimonial” rights of authors. Moral rights include those of paternity and integrity: e.g., the author’s right not to have her/his work distorted, and the right to withdraw copies from circulation if the author wants to renounce the work). The “patrimonial rights” are those of reproduction, distribution and communication to the public. They correspond roughly to what we call copyright in the Anglo-American world.  See p. 29.



About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
This entry was posted in Africa, Comparative Librarianship, Copyright, International Librarianship, Latin America, LIS, Research. Bookmark the permalink.

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