Picture: iSTOCK
Picture: iSTOCK

A lobby group has urged President Cyril Ramaphosa to reject the contentious Copyright Amendment Bill saying that if signed into law, it will amount to the expropriation of local content without compensation.

The Coalition for Effective Copyright in SA has vowed it will approach the Constitutional Court should the president sign the bill into law. Parliament recently approved the bill, which is now awaiting Ramaphosa’s signature before becoming law.

But copyright lawyers, publishers, broadcasters and recording companies, who make up the coalition, objected to the bill both on content and poor drafting. There was a general consensus during the public hearings that SA has good copyright legislation but that it needs to be updated to take account of technological developments.

Instead, the bill proposes changing the country’s copyright regime. One of the more contentious aspects of the bill is its introduction of the “fair use” principle used in the US and favoured by Google, which, in effect, allows for the free use of copyrighted content.

“We can announce today that we have officially petitioned President Ramaphosa to refer the unconstitutional Copyright Amendment Bill back to the National Assembly to be reconsidered,” said Collen Dlamini, who speaks on behalf of the coalition.

Dlamini said that should the bill be signed into law, SA creatives will no longer be paid for the content they create. “Our writers will stop writing. Our singers will stop singing. Our artists will stop drawing. Local writers, artists and musicians will be the losers. Big global tech companies with access to an abundance of cheap local content will be the winners.”

Dlamini also said the destruction of local content will mean that SA will be flooded with foreign educational material written in Europe and America. “Our children will be forced to learn content produced in other countries that they cannot relate to. If President Ramaphosa signs this bill into law, he will be complicit in the recolonisation of our curriculum.” 

‘Constitutionally invalid’

 The petition to Ramaphosa highlights a number of procedural and substantive reasons why the bill should be referred back to parliament. Dlamini said the bill is incorrectly tagged as a Section 75 bill (not affecting provinces), when it should have been tagged a Section 76 bill (affecting  provinces).

“Incorrect tagging is reason alone to have the bill set aside as constitutionally invalid,” he said.

Furthermore, said Dlamini, the bill amounts to the retrospective and arbitrary deprivation of property, in contravention of section 25 of the constitution, which, as it stands, strikes a good balance between the interest of property owners and the interests of society. 

The bill incorrectly and unconstitutionally delegates legislative authority to the trade and industry minister. There was inadequate public consultation on crucial aspects of the bill. The bill violates the constitutional right to freedom of trade, occupation and profession,” he said.

“In short, we believe there are more than enough grounds for President Ramaphosa to send the bill back to the National Assembly for reconsideration in terms of section 79 (1) of the constitution. It is important to point out that, should the president assent to the bill in its current form, we will have no choice but to approach the Constitutional Court ourselves.”