LETTER: Copyright bill a ray of hope
Parliament is doing important work in modernising our law and bringing into line with global treaties
It has been too easy to be critical of parliament in recent years. Yet the passing of important legislation such as the Public Audit Act and now potentially the Copyright Amendment Bill shows that important and socially valuable work is still being done in parliament.
The bill, which was recently referred to the National Assembly, proposes important and far-reaching changes to copyright law in SA, in most respects modernising our law and bringing it in line with various international treaties.
For example, the bill introduces a copyright exception that would make it easier for blind people to access books in braille or other accessible formats. The bill is also sensible regarding fair use and fair dealing.
On fair dealing, under the current system there is only a finite list of cases in which copying/reproduction is fair. Under fair use, as in the US, fairness is judged by reference to a number of factors, such as the “effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work”.
Recognising the limitations of the fair-dealing model, our new copyright bill proposes a hybrid model with elements of both fair use and fair dealing.
Of course, not everyone is happy with the compromises. PEN Afrikaans, for example, is “convinced” the bill “will have a direct and detrimental impact on all South African authors”.
Why sensible provisions that have done no harm to copyright holders in other countries and that have been agreed upon in widely ratified international treaties would grow toxic in SA is unclear.
Ultimately, what matters is that a sophisticated and balanced piece of legislation that will bring our copyright law into the 21st century is finally making its way through parliament. That is something to celebrate.