Last week, the Parliament of South Africa took the important step of voting through the Copyright Amendment Bill, which promises to do much to support libraries in fulfilling their missions, as well as empowering authors and other creators. One key step remains – for the bill to be signed into law by the President.

South Africa began the process of updating its apartheid-era copyright law around ten years ago, following damning findings about the behaviour of collecting societies towards artists, as well as growing evidence that the rules simply were not fit for purpose in supporting research, education and access to culture.

The proposed Copyright Amendment Bill represents a compromise, but nonetheless includes extensive positives, drawn from international good practice, which will enable libraries to make the most out of digital technology, while also supporting more equitable access to knowledge for South Africans.

The Bill’s progress has not, however, been easy. There has been noisy opposition, often based on wild and misleading claims about what the reforms meant. We have also seen opponents to the bill use spurious arguments to try and block progress, as well as pressuring foreign governments to influence South Africa. Most strangely, creators themselves have been mobilised by their publishers and record companies to argue against legislation that would give them additional rights.

Indeed, the Bill has once before been approved by the South African parliament, but the President then, faced with threats of litigation from rightholder organisations, sent it back to Parliament for further review on a technicality. This delay has, for example, meant that libraries could not draw on the Bill’s provisions to provide easier access to education during the Pandemic, or act to digitise collections lost in the fire at the Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town.

Now, the Bill once again comes before the President. With all of the necessary extra process followed, we strongly hope that signing the Bill into law will be a formality this time, and that the President will make good on his commitment in his 2022 Heritage Day speech to deliver on the Bill’s potential.

As IFLA has underlined in its own contributions to this process, in support of our South African members, this would provide not just a significant gain for South Africa’s learners, researchers and readers and the libraries that support them, but also a powerful model for colleagues in the region and around the world.