Thursday 13 June

29 February 2024, Johannesburg – SECTION27 and Blind SA welcome the National Assembly’s vote in favour of the Copyright Amendment Bill (“CAB”) during its plenary session this afternoon. The CAB will now be sent to the President for assent, bringing South Africa’s copyright law one step closer to realising the rights of persons who are blind or visually impaired.

Jace Nair, CEO of Blind SA, said “We are delighted that the National Assembly has adopted the Copyright Amendment Bill, and especially Section 19D which provides exceptions to transcribe reading material into accessible formats, such as Braille, Large print and audio. This will reduce the book famine, and it will no longer be a criminal offence to convert books into accessible formats without the consent of the copyright holder in terms of the apartheid Copyright Act”.

The CAB amended certain aspects of the Copyright Act, 98 of 1978, which is the law regulating copyright in South Africa. When enacted into law, the CAB will introduce significant changes to the Act, which includes exceptions that will allow persons with disabilities, including persons who are blind or visually impaired, to convert published works into accessible formats without requiring the permission of the copyright holder. As explained below, these exceptions are in line with the Marrakesh Treaty, and the Constitutional Court judgment handed down in 2022 in relation to the constitutionality of the Copyright Act, and will drastically improve how persons who are blind or visually impaired will be able to access books they can read.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time the President has had an opportunity to assent to the CAB. The CAB was first introduced in the National Assembly in May 2017. However, it would take another two years before both Houses of Parliament would approve the Bill, and eventually send this to the President for assent in March 2019. More than a year later, and after litigation was launched to prompt the President’s assent to the CAB, the President indicated that he had concerns with the Bill and returned it to Parliament in June 2020.

Since then, the CAB has returned to Parliament and has been the subject of extensive public hearings and deliberations in both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. Today’s vote in the National Assembly’s plenary is potentially the last leg of CAB’s journey before assent and enactment into law, therefore marking the end of a severely protracted parliamentary process.

The Constitutional Court has also placed Parliament under pressure to finalise the CAB. In 2022, Blind SA, represented by SECTION27, took the Minister of Trade Industry and Competition to the Constitutional Court to challenge the constitutionality of the Copyright Act for the way it discriminated against persons who are blind and visually impaired. The Court found the Act to be unconstitutional to the extent that it required persons who are blind or visually impaired to obtain the consent of the copyright holder before being able to convert books and other published works into accessible formats, such as braille or large print. Finding in Blind SA’s favour, the court ordered, amongst others, that Parliament fix the Copyright Act before the end of September 2024, so that it upholds the rights of persons who are blind or visually impaired and enable them to access books in accessible formats.

Blind SA and SECTION27 commend Parliament for its deliberate efforts to finalise the CAB, and for ensuring that it includes provisions that will benefit persons with disabilities and the way they are able to access literary works.

However, we call upon the President to sign the CAB into law as a matter of urgency. Once enacted into law, all persons with disabilities will have greater access to books in formats they can use. The amended Copyright Act will also allow South Africa to become party to the Marrakesh Treaty. Ratifying this international treaty will allow persons who are blind or visually impaired in South Africa to engage in the cross-border exchange of accessibly formatted reading materials and will make hundreds and thousands of titles in accessible formats available to them.

SECTION27 and Blind SA urge the President to promptly assent to the CAB and call on the Department of Trade of Industry and Competition to facilitate the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty.

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Pearl Nicodemus | | 082 298 2636


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