Thursday 13 June


24 February 2022, Johannesburg – BLIND SA and SECTION27 have filed papers with the Constitutional Court to ask the Court to confirm the Copyright Act of 1978 as unconstitutional for violating the rights of persons who are blind or visually disabled.

This follows our 21 September 2021 court victory where the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division) declared the Copyright Act unconstitutional because of the barriers it imposes on persons who are blind or visually disabled in accessing accessibly formatted reading materials. The court challenge showed how South Africa’s current Copyright regime fails to allow people who are blind or visual impaired to convert published works, such as books, into accessible formats without first securing the permission of the copyright holder, which can take a long time or can be rejected.

Elsewhere in the world, many countries have exceptions into their Copyright law for persons with disabilities. In the absence of such an exception here, persons who are blind or visually disabled experience a Book Famine, with fewer than 0,5% of published works in South Africa made available in accessible formats such as Braille.

In the High Court, BLIND SA argued the Copyright Act has violated the rights of people who are blind or visual impaired since 1978, in particular the rights to dignity, equality, education, access to information, and participation in the cultural life of one’s choice.

The High Court ordered the following:

  • A declaratory order declaring the current Copyright Act invalid and unconstitutional because it limits/prevents people with visual disabilities from accessing works under copyright in formats that they can read, and does not include provisions designed to enable access to works under copyright as envisaged by the Marrakesh Treaty;
  • A ‘reading in’ – or inclusion – of the proposed section 19D of the Copyright Amendment Bill (CAB) to the current Copyright Act to allow an exception to copyright for people with disabilities so that they can convert published works into accessible formats like Braille, large print, Digitally Accessible Information System (Daisy).

The Constitutional Court has the mandate to confirm the High Court’s order and amend Copyright Act to be more inclusive to persons who are blind or visually disabled. BLIND SA and SECTION27 believe that confirming the Copyright Act as unconstitutional will further the values enshrined in our constitution and reverse decades long discrimination against people with visual disabilities.

The Constitutional Court case is an important part of the process towards meaningful copyright reform so that people who are blind or visually can access libraries of published works in formats that are accessible for them. While Parliament continues to debate the CAB through a drawn out and very politically charged process, a confirmation of the unconstitutionality of the Copyright Act regarding access to reading materials for persons who are blind or visually disabled from the Constitutional Court will help the community access reading materials immediately.

The Constitution Court will hear the matter on 12 May 2022. More details about the court hearing, and BLIND SA and SECTION27’s campaign to #EndTheBookFamine will follow soon.

For access to our Heads of Argument, click here.


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