While artists help mitigate effect of pandemic, copyright bill poses its own threat
Despite repeated calls for action, Cyril Ramaphosa is dithering over signing it or sending it back to MPs
The creative and cultural sectors have been decimated by the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Musicians, actors, fine artists and the support services they sustain are suffering immeasurable harm due to the cancellation of concerts, theatre and film productions, as well as art auctions and exhibitions.
After the president announced the lockdown, sectors including banking, pharmaceuticals, retail, and individual companies across the private sector announced short- to midterm measures that will assist employees, independent contractors, informal sector entrepreneurs and small business to stay afloat.
The Rupert, Oppenheimer and Motsepe families have added their contribution by donating R1bn each to a national Solidarity Fund. Individuals and companies have also contributed to the fund. Many others have made small unseen contributions by buying out stock from street vendors and paying their domestic help in part or in full for the duration of the lockdown period.
The broader creative sector has made significant contributions to society as well. On the educational front, publishers of educational materials are hard at work and co-operating with educators to make digital-learning content available to students who must suddenly adapt to new ways of learning. A strong educational publishing industry will be a critical roleplayer in not only making this academic year a success for SA’s students but also in rebuilding the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite immense pressure on the creative and cultural industry, and the personal hardship many artists are experiencing, the sector has continued to bring beauty, levity and solidarity into this tough climate: artists including Lira, Loyiso Bala, Zolani, Karen Zoid and Jack Parow have collaborated to bring us the Pick n Pay Don’t panic-buy song. Cassper Nyovest hosted the #CassperStayAtHomeGames in which he was soundly defeated by SA’s comedic sensation Trevor Noah. Ard Matthews of Just Jinger fame gave a stunning performance on his rooftop, with funds from the donation page going to soup kitchens in Khayelitsha and struggling musicians countrywide.
Despite the overwhelming warmth and goodwill evident during this period, we must keep an eye on the long-term picture. Though the myriad initiatives to provide short-term relief will undoubtedly prove critical for many individuals and families, this will barely mitigate the long-term impact of the pandemic. This is not only because the SA economy was fundamentally broken before the virus, but also because the pandemic is global and will equally damage SA’s trading partners and the international investors we were working hard to attract.
The critical role of the bill in SA’s international trade relations must surely tip the scales conclusively in favour of referring the bill back to parliament
The Ramaphosa administration has been exemplary in its approach to the pandemic. The government has taken an integrated approach, with different departments and sectors being meaningfully consulted in the crafting of the regulations for the lockdown period. Considerable thought has been given to the impact of the lockdown on virtually everyone including the homeless, women and children who are vulnerable to domestic violence, and the needs of the elderly. We will need a similar approach to the postpandemic period to successfully craft an effective recovery plan, and to revive international trade to generate export revenue.
For months now the Copyright Amendment Bill has been the subject of impassioned debate between proponents (big global tech companies) and opponents (local creatives and copyright owners). Despite repeated calls for action from all sides, the president has not taken a decision on whether to sign the bill into law, or to send it back to parliament for reconsideration.
The case has been made clearly and authoritatively that the bill is unconstitutional. But since this constitutional consideration has not been enough to move the president to act, the critical role of the bill in SA’s international trade relations must surely tip the scales conclusively in favour of referring the bill back to parliament.
If SA loses its preferential trade status with the US, the R34bn loss in export revenue will deal a death blow to our battered economy. In addition to the US government’s review of SA’s eligibility for preferential trade access to US markets, the EU government has also cautioned the presidency from signing this defective bill. These calls stem from concerns that the intellectual property regime introduced by the bill will no longer adequately protect intellectual property. The US review is ongoing.
As fate would have it, the substantive and procedural flaws of the bill have handed the president a constitutionally valid way to avert an economic catastrophe — refer the bill back to parliament and save a vital trade-relationships if we are to resuscitate the sinking economy. Referring the bill back to parliament has obvious benefits. Domestically, government will have another chance to build consensus within the creative and cultural sectors.
Constitutionally, parliament will be able to rewrite the bill in conformity with the constitution, removing the possibility of lengthy litigation challenging the legislation and stalling its implementation. Internationally, the referral of the bill back to parliament will render the US review of SA’s generalised system of preferences (GSP) status moot. The government will have time to engage vital international trade partners, pre-empting a return to the current predicament once a revised version of the bill is passed.
We have seen the president in action. He has displayed decisive leadership in addressing the pandemic, and he should be consistent at it. His next move on the bill will be a decisive one for the SA economy.
• Dlamini chairs the Copyright Coalition of SA.
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