29 June 2020

A Damaging Delay: Libraries and Users in South Africa Forced to Wait Longer for Overdue Reforms

Following years of advocacy in favour of long-overdue copyright reforms, libraries in South Africa will need to wait a while longer for change. Following pressure from foreign governments, the Parliament will now have to reconsider the Copyright Amendment Bill.

For almost ten years, libraries in South Africa have been calling for changes to the country’s copyright laws in order to bring these up to date with the digital age.

With the last reform dating back forty years, libraries are still obliged to work with laws which do not take into account the possibilities that digital technologies have brought, or the expectations of users.

This has weakened the ability of libraries to carry out their missions to support research and education, and so help the country progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Instead, there is continued reliance on imported materials, rather than investment in developing generations of local researchers, innovators and writers.

Last year, the South African Parliament therefore agreed on legislation which would have gone a long way to resolving these concerns, as well as introducing new protections for creators and regulation of collecting societies.

Despite the clear signal from the Parliament, the President of South Africa delayed signing the law, and ultimately has returned it to Parliament for further views, on the grounds of arguments that had already been subject to discussion.

This follows just weeks after a letter from the European Union’s Ambassador to South Africa, as well as ongoing discussions in the United States, warning of potential consequences for trade if the reform passes.

In both cases, interventions appear to have been triggered by lobbying from major entertainment industry organisations. While in the United States, an open hearing allowed for interventions from organisations representing users and the institutions that support them, such as libraries, it is unclear that the European Union ever actively sought other views in determining its position.

It is now to be hoped that the Parliament will be able to resolve the questions raised, and rapidly prepare a new version of the Bill with minimal revisions for approval. In coordination with our South African members, IFLA will work in South Africa and elsewhere to counter efforts by foreign governments to intervene in this process.

IFLA Secretary General Gerald Leitner said:

It is disappointing to see that learners, researchers and creators in South Africa will need to wait even longer for an already long-overdue reform, and particularly so given that the issues raised in the President’s statement have already been extensively discussed.

I hope that the South African Parliament will now stay true to its desire to support education, innovation, creation and development, and move rapidly to pass a law that will provide a model for the continent and the world.

Read IFLA’s previous news stories on South Africa’s copyright reforms from November 2018, December 2018, and January 2019, as well as our submission to the US Trade Representative hearing.

CLM (Committee on Copyright and other Legal Matters), Copyright, Copyright exceptions and limitations, South Africa

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