BlindSA goes to court over Act that 'prevents published work being converted to braille'

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BlindSA has gone to court over a Copyright law.
BlindSA has gone to court over a Copyright law.
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  • BlindSA says the Copyriight Act is an "apartheid-era" law that infringes on the rights of people with visual disabilities.
  • According to the notice of motion filed, BlindSA wants the court to declare the Copyright Act 98 of 1978 inconsistent with the Constitution.
  • Last year, BlindSA accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of delaying the signing of the Copyright Amendment Bill that was introduced to Parliament in 2015.

A court battle between BlindSA and the government could be looming after the organisation - represented by Section27 - approached the Gauteng High Court to challenge the Copyright Act, which they say infringes on the rights of people with visual disabilities.

According to BlindSA, the Copyriight Act is an "apartheid-era" law that infringes on the rights of persons with visual disabilities, in particular the rights to equality, dignity, basic and further education, freedom of expression, language and participation in the cultural life of one's choice.

Section27 spokesperson Julia Chaskalson said: "One of the main problems with the current Act is that it does not provide exceptions to copyrighted materials to allow persons to convert these published works into accessible formats such as braille, Digitally Accessible Information System (Daisy), audio, large print or other suitable formats for persons with visual disability. This has resulted in a Book Famine for persons with visual disabilities, constituting unfair discrimination."

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

She said the Act did not align with numerous international commitments like the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability ratified by South Africa in 2007 or the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind.

According to the notice of motion filed, BlindSA wants the court to declare the Copyright Act 98 of 1978 inconsistent with the Constitution of the country. They also want Parliament to remedy the "unconstitutionality" of the Act.

Government introduced a Copyright Amendment Bill (CAB) to Parliament in 2015. The CAB included a new section called 19D – which contained general exceptions regarding protection of copyright works for a person with a disability. It allow persons who are blind or visually impaired to make or import accessible format copies of published works without the permission of the copyright holder.

Last year, BlindSA accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of delaying the signing of the Bill. Ramaphosa returned it to Parliament to address constitutional concerns.

ALSO READ | Coalition urges Ramaphosa to refer copyright bill back to Parliament

"The process ahead for the CAB is likely to be long, despite that 19D – a clause which has never been contested – could increase access to reading materials for persons who are blind or visually impaired now. 19D is essentially held hostage by a legislative process that is politically contentious, delaying the realisation of human rights for persons with visual disabilities," Chaskalson said.

The papers cite Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel, International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor, National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise, National Council of Provinces shair Amos Masondo, and Ramaphosa as respondents. 

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