Activists march to support copyright for the visually impaired

9th May 2022 By: Thabi Madiba - Creamer Media Senior Research Assistant and Reporter

Activists from BLIND SA, SECTION27 and partner organisations will, on Thursday, march to the Constitutional Court and picket to show their support for persons who are blind or visually impaired to be allowed to convert books into accessible formats without facing criminal penalties relating to copyright law.

The Constitutional Court will preside over an online court case on May 12 to decide whether or not to confirm a High Court order from September 2021, which declared that the Copyright Act of 1978 is unconstitutional as it imposes barriers on persons who are blind or visually impaired who want to convert books into accessible formats such as Braille.

The online court case was brought by BLIND SA and SECTION27.

SECTION27 explained that the 1978 Copyright Act does not contain an exception to copyright for persons with disabilities. Currently, a blind person must secure permission from the copyright holder of any published work to convert the text into Braille or another accessible format.

The organisation argues that this can take a long time and many requests are ignored by copyright holders.

“This means that around 0.5% of all published works in South Africa are available in accessible formats – an unacceptable book famine for persons who are blind. If a person who is blind converts a text into an accessible format without the copyright holder’s permission, they can face unfair criminal and civil penalties – simply for converting a book that they have purchased, or borrowed from a library, into a format that is readable to them,” SECTION27 said.

The respondents in the case – the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition, the Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and the President of the Republic of South Africa – are not opposing the case.