Blind people can now convert material to braille as ConCourt rules Copyright Act unconstitutional

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BlindSA in  court. Photo: BlindsA
BlindSA in court. Photo: BlindsA

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A group of activists who advocate for blind and visually impaired people has emerged victorious in their court battle to prove certain sections of the Copyright Act unconstitutional for unfair discrimination.

The apex court delivered a unanimous judgment on Wednesday that sections 6 and 7 of the act are unconstitutional and granted Parliament 24 months to remedy the defects. 

"Those with print and visual disabilities suffer from a scarcity of access to literary works that persons without these impairments do not due to the Copyright Act, which, therefore, constitutes unfair discrimination on the basis of disability," said Justice Jody Kollapen.

Kollapen, who was delivering a judgment written by Acting Justice David Unterhalter, read that while Parliament was still rectifying the act, visually impaired people should not have to wait and were allowed to convert the material to accessible formats without requiring authorisation.

BlindSA was represented by Section 27.

“We are ecstatic that we have a judgment that provides for the exceptions that we have been advocating for so long," said Jace Nair, CEO of Blind SA.

“We would like to thank the Constitutional Court for recognising the impact this violation has had on the lives of blind and partially sighted persons for decades.”

READ: OPINION | Mila Harding: Blind SA heads to court over blind spot in Copyright law

The nonprofit organisation pointed out in its evidence that children and university students who were visually impaired struggled to secure books in accessible format copies for educational purposes.

In September 2021, BlindSA obtained a Johannesburg High Court order that declared the Copyright Act of 1978 unconstitutional. The high court also ruled that the proposed section of the Copyright Amendment Bill be immediately inserted so that people who were blind could access the books they wanted to read.

The Copyright Amendment Bill was proposed five years after it was introduced and is still being debated in the National Assembly because of disagreements with some of its provisions.

Earlier in May, the constitutional court sat to consider, confirming that the act was unconstitutional. The minister of trade, industry and competition, Ebrahim Patel, who was cited as the first respondent, did not oppose the confirmation of invalidity; however, he made submissions in favour of the suspension of the declaration of invalidity to assist this court to determine the appropriate remedy. 

The minister of international relations and cooperation, the National Assembly and President Cyril Ramaphosa were also cited as respondents.


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