International writers request that Parliament reject a damaging copyright measure.

More than five million creators worldwide have pleaded with South Africa’s lawmakers not to approve the contentious Copyright Amendment Bill.

In a statement released on Saturday, Gadi Oron, director general of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, or CISAC, expressed opposition to the measure and warned that it would negatively impact South Africa’s artistic community.

The National Assembly is due to consider the law on Thursday along with a report on it that was put together by the Portfolio Committee on Trade, Industry, and Competition.

In September 2023, the measure was adopted by the National Council of Provinces.

However, the world’s largest network of writers’ societies, CISAC, is pleading with the National Assembly to reject the Copyright Amendment Bill.

“If adopted, the bill will harm South Africa’s creative community, devalue creators’ works and be out of step with international best practice,” said Oron.

Local artist associations, such as those affiliated with the Copyright Coalition South Africa, have also criticised the measure. The coalition has advocated for a revision of the bill, which was first submitted in 2017.

The “foundation of creators’ economic sustenance,” copyright, is weakened under the measure, according to CISAC. According to Oron, it would have a detrimental effect on both the future generation of creators and the livelihoods of people in the creative sectors.

Providing those with disabilities with access to copyrighted works—for instance, turning a book into a braille version that a blind person could read—is one of the bill’s main modifications.

Additionally, the “fair-use principle” is cited in the law to permit the unrestricted use of copyrighted works for educational or research purposes. As previously reported by News24, businesses such as Google endorse the fair usage concept.

In addition to introducing the protection of digital rights, the measure permits the selling of royalty rights and calls for “equitable remuneration,” or the sharing of royalties in copyright works, including literary, musical, artistic, and audiovisual works. It also discusses restrictions and exclusions pertaining to the reproduction of works protected by copyright.

However, Oron points out that there is a “open-ended list” of copyright exclusions, highlighting various shortcomings in the measure.

“This excessive focus on exceptions, instead of the rights of creators, is not what the function of a new copyright law should be. It devalues works, opening up many new uses for which creators will no longer have the right to earn royalties,” said Oron.

Additionally, he said that the “fair use” idea would only lead to “expensive and wasteful” litigation and create a “lose-lose” scenario for both producers and consumers.

“The democratisation of information and education are important objectives, but they should not come at the expense of South Africa’s poets, composers, culture and creativity,” Oron said.

While the bill’s intentions are to protect creators, it fails to do so, CISAC argued.

“We ask that the National Assembly thinks again and does not adopt the current bill draft,” Oron emphasised.

In April 2023, lawyers at Webber Wentzel issued a similar warning, stating that although the bill aims to give authors more rights, it unintentionally restricts their rights.

Authors are prohibited by the bill from entering into contracts with companies on “commercially favourable” terms, according to Carla Collett and Joshua Leroni of Webber Wentzel.

“What the bills have not considered is that companies will merely move their business and investment to countries that provide the best competitive advantage for copyright protection,” they said. “… Creators from all industries in South Africa will struggle to find partners willing to commercialise their work.”

Adams & Adams lawyers warn that a proposed bill limiting contractual freedoms in South Africa could harm economic growth and investment. Authors’ associations, including PEN South Africa, ANFASA, and PEN Afrikaans, are calling for the National Assembly to reject the bill, citing potential negative impacts on creative content production.

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