5 December 2018

Delivering the Promise: IFLA Secretary General Urges Support for Copyright Reforms that Benefit South African Libraries, Users

IFLA Secretary General Gerald Leitner has written a letter to key South African ministers and parliamentarians, urging them to take the final steps necessary to approve a copyright reform that will be good for libraries and good for their users. People with print disabilities will benefit particularly from the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty that the reforms enable. 

It has been forty years since the last major update of South Africa's copryight reform. While the country has seen many changes in the meanwhile, copyright laws have stood still, creating an increasing barrier to libraries in their work to support users in a digital age. 

A bill introduced five years ago has made slow progress, but seen a number of improvements along the way. Libraries have been particular closely engaged, ensuring that the opportunity is taken to do better for the country's learners, researchers and readers.

Following a positive vote in the Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry, it remains for the South African Parliament as a whole to approve the bill.

IFLA Secretary General Gerald Leitner has therefore written to key Ministers and Parliamentarians in order to encourage them to take the final step, and not to pay heed to arguments that create confusion and doubt. 

The letter is below, addressed to Dr Rob Davies, Minister for Trade and Industry: 

Dear Dr Davies,

I am writing to you as Secretary-General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Our organisation represents over 2.3 million libraries worldwide, serving over a billion users. We are proud to count South African associations and institutions amongst our membership.

We have followed closely the copyright reforms in South Africa, which promise to deliver long-overdue change in the laws for library activities. From early in the process, provisions on exceptions and limitations have been central to the proposals, and the library community has duly looked to support law makers in creating a law that would best promote education, innovation, research and creativity.

We wanted therefore to welcome the vote by the Portfolio Committee, which makes important progress towards a law that will empower South Africa’s libraries, and in doing so, drive development. If agreed in its current form, it will set a fine example to Africa and the world.

I am aware that the discussions have been intense. It is crucial to remember that libraries are founded on the principle of balance. They spend $30bn globally per year on buying books, supporting rightholders, and then provide access to users in a way that ensures the students and readers of today can become the innovators and creators of tomorrow.

They benefit from rules that adapt to technological change, and offer greater certainty to librarians as they offer help to users. The version of the bill agreed by the Committee would do this.

What it would not do is lead to unreasonable prejudice to the interests of rightholders. Libraries will not be able to take copies of entire in-commerce books and make them available, despite claims to the contrary. Rather, they will continue to buy works, and so support authors and publishers. 

Furthermore, suggestions that the current reforms would be in contravention with the Berne Convention, and would make South Africa unable to accede to the Marrakesh Treaty have been clearly dismissed, and serve only to create confusion and doubt.

What is certain is that South Africa is only a few steps away from passing a law that will demonstrate the country’s regional leadership, and help the country achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Yours sincerely,

Find out more about IFLA's work on limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries.

CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters), Access to knowledge, Copyright Limitations and Exceptions for Libraries & Archives, Education, South Africa

List all IFLA news