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South Africa is clearly the latest terrain of a world-wide tug-war between creators of authored works, publishers, cultural industries, tech firms and their activists over the protection of copyright, writes Collen Dlamini.
A European ruling by the EU Parliament holds
tech giants responsible for compensating content creators and for removing
copyright-violating posts, a powerful blow for the rights of creators against unfair
exploitation of their work by multinational corporations.
While the above is happening, a spotlight
turns on South Africa, where pending legislation is poised to give the tech
giants unprecedented rights to exploit copyrighted works without payment. The
Copyright Amendment Bill is currently before the National Council of Provinces,
having been passed in the National Assembly.
The bill whose proponents claim to have the
interest of the local creative and cultural sectors at heart, has them in
uproar. It is a complex piece of legislation, riven with uncertain terminology,
that is being rushed through Parliament thanks to the advocacy of tech giants
like Google and generous Google funding receiving Wikipedia, who stand to
benefit from it.
South Africa is clearly the latest terrain
of a world-wide tug-war between creators of authored works, publishers, cultural
industries, tech firms and their activists over the protection of copyright. In
facing this reality, South Africans need to be patriotic and conscious of the
reach and scale of the undue influence of the advocacy tentacles of global tech
South Africans need to recognise that, in
spite of a climate of intense lobbying by Google and its associates, the
European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission reached
an agreement after years of negotiations enacting new rules supporting creators
of knowledge and ideas, in ensuring they are fairly compensated for the use –
and re-use – of their content on digital platforms.
These rules also strive to close the "value
gap," so that record artists and their labels may be remunerated more
accurately, transparently and fairly when their material is shared on platforms
like Google's YouTube.
Thus, overseas, US tech giants such as
Google in future will negotiate licensing agreements with rights holders and
their agencies, such as collective management organisations, record labels, music
publishers, film producers, writers' unions and actors' guilds and media firms.
Why should it be different if those platforms benefit massively when they
publish or aggregate this third-party content, on platforms such as YouTube and
Google Books, Google News, Google Music, Google everything?
The modern cultural challenge is to
arbitrate between the content-creation sector versus Silicon Valley, and it is
the legislators of the world who must decide on whose side they stand. Will the
final shape of our copyright law benefit the creators of content, or only those
who would reuse that content without fair compensation?
The tech lobby contends that protecting
copyright on artistic, news and academic work will limit online innovation and
freedoms in Europe. The content creators point out that when works of art or
research are no longer fairly remunerated, industries will collapse. What a lot
The tech companies have no compunction
about influencing this debate. During the European process, the EU Parliament
had to speak out against deceptive, high-spending lobbying by Google, Facebook
and Amazon. "We face a campaign with many misconceptions and fake
arguments," said Axel Voss, one of the key drafters of the new rules,
describing misleading wiki updates, hysterical misrepresentations and massive
email spam campaigns.
In South Africa we face the same risk but under
conditions that make artists even more vulnerable. Our process has seen undue
influence and the intimate involvement of tech companies with the Department of
Trade and Industry, which has been driving the new bill – even to the point of
co-hosting events with these tech giants. New organisations and lobbyists have
emerged with similarly close links to the tech companies, articulating views aligned
In this case you might have heard of
ReCreate, an "AstroTurf" organisation of such organisations, an
artificial appearance of a ground swell in the absence of true grassroot
movements. Foreign academics have waded into the debate, essentialising op-eds
have been written, and at the same time, Parliament has shown little
inclination to consider views critical of the bill. Which leaves one to wonder
whose interests is Parliament advancing and protecting?
There has been inadequate meaningful public
consultation, railroading of the bill in Parliament, and imprecise terminology
that will require years of legal proceedings to clarify. One has to ask, who would
benefit from the bill if it were passed? The answer is the tech platforms that would
host content without paying fair remuneration all in the name of untruth that
we've been told of enabling innovation.
The CAB contains broad exceptions for free
republishing of content as long as it is for "education" purposes,
forgetting that in South Africa 80% of publishing is in fact educational (and
rightly so). This will rob writers and publishers of their livelihoods, and
force the closure of academic publishers to the detriment of writing talent and
ultimately learners. An economic
impact assessment by PWC and the Publishers Association of South Africa
found the bill would destroy a third of publishing jobs in a struggling economy.
It will prejudice music businesses through the
disregard of the freedom to contract and byzantine new layers of royalty laws. No
doubt, it will drive out film investment through the uncertainty it creates
around rights and usage.
It is imperative that we remain aware of
the undue influence of advocacy processes around this bill, and temper our acceptance
of apparently supportive views with critical awareness of the lobbying campaign.
Parliament ought to exercise due diligence in considering the bill and remain
impartial in considering submissions from all stakeholders. Sadly, this has not
been the case with the current Copyright Amendment Bill.
The Copyright Amendment Bill in its current
form will prejudice content creators, from writers to publishers, music
professionals to filmmakers and ultimately the users that depend on their
Awareness must be raised about this flawed bill
being rushed through Parliament, and the vested interests trying to make that
happen. The bill must be revised and redrafted with inputs from all
stakeholders taken into consideration, not to allow a digital colonisation of
- Collen Dlamini is head of the Kagiso Group's Regulatory Affairs.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.
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