The Limits of International Copyright Exceptions for Developing Countries

Ruth L. Okediji · 21 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 689


The relationship between intellectual property (IP) protection and economic development is not better understood today than it was five decades ago at the height of the independence era in the Global South. Development indicators in many developing and least-developed countries reflect poorly in precisely the areas that are most closely associated with copyright law’s objectives, such as promoting democratic governance, facilitating a robust marketplace of ideas, fostering domestic markets in cultural goods, and improving access to knowledge. Moreover, evidence suggests that copyright law has not been critical to the business models of the creative sectors in leading emerging markets. These outcomes indicate that the current configuration of limitations and exceptions (L&Es) in international copyright law has not advanced the human welfare goals that animate its leading justifications in developing countries. This Article argues that development interests require radically different kinds of limitations and exceptions to the copyright bargain than are reflected in international copyright law. The Article considers the design of the international copyright system in light of what economists have learned about the conditions necessary for economic development and examines what changes to international copyright L&Es those insights demand. It concludes that a more realistic dialogue about the relationship between copyright and economic development compels new types of L&Es, thus underscoring where developing and least-developed countries should sensibly invest their limited economic and political capital when engaging with the international copyright framework.