Ramaphosa sends Copyright and Performers' Protection Bills back to Parliament, fearing exploitation

SA artist, Sjava performing in Durban.
Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images
SA artist, Sjava performing in Durban. Photo: Darren Stewart/Gallo Images
Darren Stewart

President Cyril Ramaphosa has sent the Copyright Amendment Bill back to Parliament. The Bill whose aim is to empower creatives, authors, artists and other professionals in the publishing sector received wide criticism from observers and some of the industry players who felt that in its current form, it would not achieve what it sought to do.

In the letter to the National Assembly Speaker dated 16 June, President Ramaphosa said his office received a lot of submissions, cautioning the President against signing the Copyright Amendment Bill and the Performers' Protection Amendment Bill into law.

The two Bills received greenlight from Parliament in March last year, when they were passed by the National Assembly. This was despite warnings that some of its proposals, which include not paying royalties to artists whose work is used in education would threaten their livelihoods.

The Copyright Coalition of South Africa (CCSA) led the fight to try and stop President Ramaphosa from signing the two Bills into law. However, some local artists have openly pledged support for it, appealing to the President to fast-track its gazetting into law.

In the letter to the Speaker, Ramaphosa said after all the submissions and legal opinion he received, he has several reservations about the constitutionality of the two Bills. For starters, the two were incorrectly tagged as ordinary Bills that do not affect provinces. But the National Council of Province ought to have voted on the Bills too because they affect trade of artists' indigenous work, said Ramaphosa.

The President also raised concerns that some provisions in the Bills will "substantially" and arbitrarily deprive artists and authors of their property. He said:

"These provisions mean that going forward, copyright owners will be entitled to lesser share of the fruits of their property than was previously the case. The impact of these provisions reaches far beyond the authors it seeks to protect – those that live in poverty as a result of not having been fairly protected in the past."
President Cyril Ramaphosa

The President also said that substantial amendments have been made to the Copyright Amendment Bill following the 2017 public hearings. Yet, these were not put out for public comment before the final Bill was published. Furthermore, the Bill may be in breach some international treaties that SA is a signatory to, and may run the risk of violating some of artists' constitutional rights.  

The CCSA welcomed Ramaphosa's decision on Saturday, saying that by sending the Bill back to Parliament, the President has shown that he cares about the future of South Africa's creative sector.

"The Coalition has long argued that the Copyright Amendment Bill is unconstitutional, both procedurally and substantively. The reasoning outlined by the President in his letter to Parliament vindicates our position," said the coalition's chairperson, Collen Dlamini.

He said the President's decision will protect the livelihoods of local artists and content producers, as well as workers who support the sector for their livelihood.

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