Picture: 123RF / ALEXLMX
Picture: 123RF / ALEXLMX

Authors, musicians, composers and artists have joined forces to fight government proposals that could strip them of much of their copyright protection. Proposals being considered by the department of trade & industry (DTI) could allow users — most notably technology companies — the right to override that protection.

A previous government-commissioned copyright report said creative industries — including publishing, entertainment, film, music, arts, technology, broadcasting, education and even software development — deserved more legal protection against unauthorised use of their copyright-protected works.

But Stephen Hollis, a partner at law firm Adams & Adams, which specialises in copyright and intellectual property issues, says that when the DTI unveiled ideas for its Copyright Amendment Bill in August this year, the original ideas had been "turned on their head".

Instead, documents suggest technology companies like Google, YouTube, Apple and Facebook — the world’s biggest users of copyright-protected material — could claim "fair use" of copyrighted material, entitling them to an equal share of royalties collected for commercial use of the work.

The promised policy interaction with affected creative industries has not happened, and there is no sign of a proposed impact assessment study.

There are even suggestions that the authors of educational text-books should not receive royalties, on the basis that there should be no protection for knowledge the country needs. "The idea is that anyone should be free to copy and reproduce their contents," says Hollis. "I can think of no bigger deterrent to the creation and sharing of new educational ideas."

The about-turn appears to be based on US policy ideas that place "public good" above traditional copyright protection. However, Hollis says the criteria used to determine this "good" are so vague that almost anything could be overridden. As a result of the policy about-turn, affected industries have created the Copyright Alliance to fight for their rights. It held its first meeting at the weekend and plans to take its fight to the DTI in January.

Foreign film-making organisations are also promising their support, warning that any weakening of copyright protection could deter film makers from working in SA.

furlongerd@fm.co.za

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