Sunday Times

Blind SA takes Ramaphosa to court


● President Cyril Ramaphosa’s tardiness in enacting the controvers­ial Copyright Amendment Bill has landed him in the Constituti­onal Court, where he is accused of failing to fulfil his constituti­onal duties and disadvanta­ging millions of visually impaired citizens.

Blind SA is asking the highest court in the land to compel Ramaphosa to sign the bill passed by parliament in March last year into law without any further delay.

In the same applicatio­n, Blind SA also wants the court to force the minister of internatio­nal relations — within 10 days of the president assenting to the bill — to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty to facilitate access to published works by visually impaired persons.

The Copyright Amendment Bill, which regulates intellectu­al property matters, amends the outdated 1978 version of the Copyright Act.

The publishing industry is opposed to the bill, while big technology companies support it, especially its “fair use” clause.

Blind SA argues in court papers that Ramaphosa’s failure to enact the bill has prevented the translatio­n of reading material, including learning textbooks, into braille and other accessible formats used by the visually impaired.

The organisati­on has also pointed its guns at section 6(a) of the 1978 Copyright Act, which grants an exclusive right to authors or their assignees in “reproducin­g the [literary] work in any manner or form”.

The Copyright Amendment Bill introduces an exception to the exclusive right granted in the old act, in favour of the visually impaired.

Blind SA says the effect of this provision is that copyrighte­d literature may not be transcribe­d to braille and alternativ­e formats for the print-disabled without the authorisat­ion of the owner.

“The visually impaired and otherwise print-disabled are prejudiced on an ongoing basis by this delay.

“They are constantly excluded from everyday reading, from many aspects of study and from numerous cultural aspects. These exclusions prevent them from exercising their constituti­onal rights to equality and human dignity and these exclusions continue notwithsta­nding the bill having been passed by the National Assembly more than a year ago,” the organisati­on said.

It also contends that Ramaphosa’s “inaction” on the bill has the knock-on effect of delaying ratificati­on of the Marrakesh Treaty.

The trade & industry department last year asked parliament for ratificati­on of the Marrakesh Treaty to be delayed until the bill had been signed into law.

The treaty was adopted by the World Intellectu­al Property Organisati­on in 2013. It allows for copyright exceptions to facilitate access to copyrighte­d reading material by the visually impaired and has been ratified by the UK, India and Tanzania.

But the Copyright Coalition of SA remains opposed to the bill passed by parliament, insisting it would not pass constituti­onal muster if signed into law. The coalition, which represents authors and other stakeholde­rs in the arts, film, music and recording industries, has previously petitioned Ramaphosa not to sign the bill, asking for further consultati­on and a socioecono­mic impact study.

The coalition’s spokespers­on, Collen Dlamini, claimed the economy stood to lose more than R34bn if the bill became law. He said the bill would effectivel­y stop duty-free access to the lucrative US market in terms of American trade preference programmes.

He said the coalition had commission­ed a study by PwC which found that the publishing industry would lose 1,250 jobs, with sales dropping by 40%, because everyone would be free to make copies at will.

“Why should one want to write a book or make music if they will not be remunerate­d for it, or if it’s going to be freely available, or you don’t have a transparen­t mechanism of calculatin­g what you should be paid if it’s on YouTube?”

Ramaphosa’s spokespers­on, Khusela Diko, said the presidency was still studying the court papers brought by Blind SA.

“The president fully appreciate­s that the bill facilitate­s access to informatio­n and works by people with disabiliti­es.

“In the same vein, the president has also received numerous submission­s regarding the constituti­onality of the bill,” she said.

Why should one want to write a book ... if they will not be remunerate­d for it?

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