Immaterialgüter- und Wettbewerbsrecht

Copyright and Development: The Case for Access to Knowledge

This project examines how the restrictive international copyright system could be amended to advance the public’s access to socially beneficial knowledge in order to make it widely available and thus promote human development as a whole.

Last Update: 31.03.22

The importance of access to and use of copyright-protected works in two human development areas – education and health – cannot be overly emphasised. More than ever, educators and learners rely heavily on the access to and the use of educational resources in digital and non-digital formats to support learning. Further, users of health research, including the public, seek widespread dissemination and access to research publications to advance the understanding and combatting of diseases.

However, these human needs crucial to achieving well-being and improving the quality of life, are difficult to meet without substantial access to the necessary literary materials. Yet, due to copyright control, the access to socially beneficial knowledge expressed in these materials is subject to several restrictions, some of which either delay or completely exclude people from accessing the information.

Considering the relevance of the access to knowledge to human development, this work presents a case to make knowledge more accessible by showing how copyright barriers affect two vital human capabilities for development – education and health. The project employs Amartya Sen’s capability approach to human development to show the connections between the access to knowledge and human development. Following the approach outlined above, the project argues that the production of knowledge-embedded works alone is not sufficient to promote and sustain human development; the availability of opportunities to access and use the knowledge embedded in these works in a way that contributes to human development are crucial. The project also employs the distributive justice theory to show how distributional inequalities in knowledge resources are fuelled by copyright rules.

Focusing on the international copyright system, the project examines the extent to which existing international copyright rules support the access to knowledge in ways that contribute to the global human development. Furthermore, the project suggests how the international copyright system could improve the access to knowledge for human development purposes in four main recommendations. First, the project proposes the adoption of an international instrument of minimum mandatory copyright exceptions and limitations in favour of the access to knowledge. Second, it recommends that the copyright public domain be protected and enriched through legal rules, starting with a positive legal recognition of the public domain in international copyright law. The project also recommends the use of legal rules to support and standardise open access to knowledge resources within the international copyright system, including creating a distinct copyright framework for research works. Lastly, the project advocates the WIPO’s role to be broadened to better support access to knowledge in its activities.


Doctoral Student

Faith Aboyeji

Main Areas of Research

I.4 Fairness als Rechtsprinzip