Print-impaired people need to be protected by SA's amended copyright act. Picture: iSTOCK
Print-impaired people need to be protected by SA's amended copyright act. Picture: iSTOCK

With the Copyright Amendment Bill having been passed by the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, and now with the presidency to be signed into law, the Coalition for Effective Copyright in SA has approached the president to refer the bill back to the National Assembly for a complete redraft. Various arguments have been put forward on the unconstitutionality of the bill and its conflict with international treaties.

At the same time, concern has been raised by certain stakeholders and other communities about the impact a redrafting of the bill and postponement of its advantages might have on the urgent needs of and continuing challenges to print-impaired persons.

If SA were to accede to the “Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled” and adopt amendments to the Copyright Act that are compliant with the terms of the treaty, these advantageous outcomes will be achieved. However, the bill’s provision for the disabled do not meet the terms of the Marrakesh Treaty and, despite encouragement from many quarters, the government has not yet seen fit to decide upon accession.

The Marrakesh Treaty

The Marrakesh Treaty is an international copyright treaty aimed at both allowing the making of accessible format copies of copyright works under an exception, as well as encouraging publishers to publish works in accessible format, thereby facilitating access to literary works in formats accessible to blind and otherwise print-disabled persons.  

By acceding to the Marrakesh Treaty as well as the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and bringing its copyright law in line with those treaties, a country may act as both an exporter and as a recipient of accessible format copies.

The Coalition for Effective Copyright therefore:

1. Supports accession by SA to the Marrakesh Treaty

The coalition supports accession to the Marrakesh Treaty, which is based on the human rights of print-impaired persons and on the rationale of non-discrimination. It therefore calls on the SA government to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty. The government cannot continue to delay accession to the treaty and punish communities of people described in the treat, solely because of bureaucratic red-tape and the fact that the treaty does not cover other kinds of disabilities as proposed in the Copyright Amendment Bill.

The Marrakesh Treaty is part of the international copyright system as administered by WIPO. SA should therefore ideally accede to the treaty at the same time that it accedes to the WIPO Copyright Treaty (WCT), the WIPO Performers Protection Treaty (WPPT,) and the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances, as decided by parliament on March 28 2019.

Ratifying the three treaties and acceding to the Marrakesh Treaty will allow SA titles to be made available and distributed internationally in its role also as exporter, not only as importer of accessible materials. This step will confirm SA’s solidarity with print-disabled persons in contracting states, especially African countries, as well as its reliability for investment in cultural industries.

SA has the developed economy, infrastructure, highly skilled institutions such as the SA Library for the Blind, Blind SA, various other Braille printers, and commercial entities to allow and support the making of accessible copies for the country to take a leadership role in Africa on access for print-impaired persons and to act as the hub for legal sharing of accessible format files. The best way to do that is to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty.

2. Supports an immediate amendment to the Copyright Act that is compliant with the Marrakesh Treaty and the other copyright treaties

The Copyright Amendment Bill should have introduced a provision compliant with the Marrakesh Treaty. The “exception for the disabled” in section 19D does not do so. Coalition members suggested compliant text to the legislative authorities over a period of years, none of which was taken up in the public consultation process. The bill, as it stands, will leave SA outside the international community that will be legally sharing accessible format files under the Marrakesh Treaty provisions.

3. Encourages rights holders to publish fully accessible works

The coalition supports publishing fully accessible works in formats that give print-disabled persons the same access as sighted persons; acquiring reading materials at the same time and under fair and reasonable terms, at no higher cost.

The fact is that only publishers can quickly and efficiently provide books to persons with print disabilities at the same time and under the same terms as to persons without print disabilities. Publishers and other providers are encouraged to mainstream “born-accessible” titles, that is, using production processes that build accessibility features into their format standards and into e-book devices from the start, and thus make fully accessible e-books the delivery method of choice for print-disabled persons.

• Radinku is executive director of the Publishing Association of SA (Pasa).