3 February 2005

Africa: A Seamstress And a License

Geneva — Outside one of the meeting rooms at the conference, Akos Nyikor hurriedly dresses a coat hanger with a traditional Ghanaian garment made by a local seamstress and quietly sets up her booth. Eight years ago Akos and her sister Ester started up their small dressmaking business in Accra and she hopes to sell a few garments to delegates.

"I buy cloth from the local market and make the outfits I sell out of them. Sometimes we use other designers to sew the dresses if there is something that a specific customer wants. Business is hard but it gives me money for my family."

Both sisters learnt from their mother, many years ago, what garments and colours to use as well as how to make them.

"These clothes are part of Ghana's heritage so why not keep making them," said Nyikor, "my customers are not just Ghanains but foreigners too. People love them because they are so colourful."

Customers cannot find information on Nyikor's family business because there is nothing posted on the internet. She relies on word of mouth to sell her wares and is somewhat removed from all the hype of the information society.

Opportunities with Creative Commons to own ideas

"Less than 1 percent of African languages have any presence on the Internet. What percentage of knowledge, history and culture of Africa is on the internet?" said Knowledge Network (OKN) representative Peter Benjamin, "Yet how many conferences, like this one, tell you to go to the internet to find information on anything you want?"

Speaking at the Creative Commons (CC) workshop on Tuesday, Benjamin explained how his organisation is working with African countries to try and address this problem so African stories and cultures can be made available on the internet. This process has been taken one step further. OKN, working together with Creative Commons, a non-profit organisation that gives authors and artists flexible protection licenses, is also making sure African communities get recognised for their work and own their output through CC licenses.

"Creative Commons can be described as people putting welcome mats on their work," said Heather Ford a CC volunteer, "Anyone anywhere in the world is then allowed to use the products for example ideas on something but the owner of the information can say 'you can only do so under certain conditions - these are the things you can do to it and nothing else'."

This means dressmakers around the world can use Nyikor's ideas on the condition they give her recognition for the garments they produce and sell. A lot more research and case studies need to be done to recognise the full impact CC licenses can have on communities, but participants at the workshop were optimistic this initiative has the potential to empower Africans like Nyikor and go a long way toward bridging the digital divide.

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