Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Trade & industry minister Rob Davies has moved to allay fears about the controversial Copyright Amendment Bill, which industry players say will amount to the expropriation of local content without compensation if signed into law.

Davies and arts & culture minister Nathi Mthethwa recently met various industry stakeholders to hear their concerns about the Copyright Amendment Bill as well as the Performers’ Protection Amendment Bill. Parliament recently approved the bills, which are now awaiting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signature before becoming law.

Industry stakeholders, including musicians, filmmakers and publishers, have raised concern about the Copyright Amendment Bill in particular. 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.

Davies said the bill was not intended to cause harm. On concerns of the fair use clause in the bill, Davies said there are safeguards meant to ensure that the intended use is in fact fair.  He said there are also “technological protection measures” to prevent unauthorised access or use of copyright works. Content that is protected by these measures includes digital music, movies, games and software, said Davies, adding that the Copyright Tribunal will also disputes that may arise.

However, industry players have called Ramaphosa to reject the bill in its entirety.

The department of trade & industry said the bill could be signed into law in full or partially with some clauses rejected, or could be withdrawn by the president and returned to the National Assembly. “It was agreed that whichever the outcome, the government would engage stakeholders to ensure a sustainable legislation and ensure further deliberations for a successful and transformed creative industry,” the department said.

Last week, the Coalition for Effective Copyright in SA vowed it will approach the Constitutional Court should the president sign the bill into law. “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.”

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.

Dlamini said the bill incorrectly and unconstitutionally delegates legislative authority to the trade & 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.