Public interest law centre SECTION27 has called for the immediate temporary inclusion of proposed Section 19D into the current Copyright Act to allow people with visual disabilities to make or import accessible format copies of published works without the permission of the copyright holder, improving their access to reading materials.
BlindSA, represented by SECTION27, has approached the High Court of South Africa to challenge the apartheid-era Copyright Act of 1978, which it says infringes on the rights of persons with visual disabilities, in particular the rights to equality, dignity, basic and further education, freedom of expression, language and participation in the cultural life of one's choice.
SECTION27 and BlindSA argue that the Act is perpetuating Book Famine for persons with visual disabilities as it does not provide exceptions to copyrighted materials to allow for the conversion of published works into accessible formats such as braille, Digitally Accessible Information System, audio, large print or other suitable formats.
In 2015, government did try to address these issues by introducing a Copyright Amendment Bill (CAB) to Parliament with a new section called 19D – which contained general exceptions regarding protection of copyright works for a person with a disability.
However, the fate of the Copyright Amendment Bill remains up in the air, says SECTION27.
“If the discriminatory aspects with the Copyright Act which we have highlighted in our papers are not resolved by Parliament within a year, we request that the court makes the inclusion of 19D into the current Act permanent. We also demand that government ratify the Marrakesh Treaty. These measures would increase access to reading materials and respect the constitutional rights of persons with visual disabilities,” the organisation said.
It is calling for the current Copyright Act to be declared unconstitutional by the Gauteng High Court and has filed papers arguing that the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Dr Naledi Pandor, the Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise, the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Amos Masondo and President Cyril Ramaphosa fulfil their constitutional and international obligations to persons with visual disabilities.
“The process ahead for the CAB is likely to be long, despite that 19D – a clause which has never been contested – could increase access to reading materials for persons who are blind or visually impaired now. 19D is essentially held hostage by a legislative process that is politically contentious, delaying the realisation of human rights for persons with visual disabilities,” SECTION27 stated.
Retired Constitutional Court Justice Zac Jacoob and online publication Spotlight’s editor Marcus Low have provided affidavits as those affected by current copyright restrictions.