South Africa: Publishers Join Statement on Copyright Act

In News by Porter Anderson

The Publishers Association of South Africa calls on president Ramaphosa ‘not to sign’ the ‘Copyright Amendment Act.’

Image – Getty iStockphoto: Pashalgnatov

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘The Possibility of Irreversible Damage’
As our Publishing Perspectives readers know, alarm bells were going off last week in many international book publishing markets of the world as it became apparent that the South African National Assembly was moving to vote on a “Copyright Amendment Bill” that many observers say is loaded with “an excessive focus on exceptions”—exceptions being instances in which people normally required to license copyrighted content and pay for its use do not have to do so.

In a statement provided to us today (March 6), the Publishers Association of South Africa has joined three sister organizations—PEN Afrikaans, ANFASA (the Academic and Nonfiction Authors Association of South Africa), and PEN South Africa—to protest the passage of the bill, which moves now to the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, for his signature.

The statement confirms that the adoption of the bill was made “with the majority vote of the ruling party, despite objections from opposition parties and large-scale opposition from the creative industries.”

Cyril Ramaphosa

Echoing much of the pre-passage news coverage, the four agencies say, “Authors and publishers have steadfastly and over many years protested the bill’s radical weakening of copyright protection, including by supporting a petition that we launched on Friday, February 23. That petition closed at 10 p.m. on February 28 and attracted 4,247 signatories in less than a week, including the support and signatures of many of our country’s leading writers.

“The petition was submitted electronically and delivered to parliament ahead of [the] deliberations.”

It has been difficult to follow the bill to this stage.

South Africa’s copyright legislation was at one point in 2020 apparently sent back to parliament members by Ramaphosa to the legislature, after the proposed law had languished in his office without action. Even the long wait for action has been puzzling to many observers, as a matter of fact,  Copyright Clearance Center‘s Michael Healy remarking to Publishing Perspectives in 2020 that such a long-delayed response in the presidential offices seemed peculiar.

“It is extremely regrettable that despite widespread criticism from copyright experts … the legislature chooses to simply proceed with this bill that will do so much harm to our book industry.”Publishers Association of South Africa

Subsequently, the bill’s review process saw it moving again in September (2023) through provincial legislative stages and reportedly being cleared earlier this month for action by the country’s portfolio committee on trade and industry.

In the run-up to the February 29 parliamentary vote, as you’ll recall, the International Publishers Association (IPA), the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers, the International Authors Forum, and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations (IFRRO) wrote in a joint statement, “We are deeply disappointed by the possibility of seeing irreversible damage happen, but we keep our trust in South African policy makers’ ability to protect the South African book and publishing sector with laws that respect the South African constitution and the international treaties that you have committed to respect.”

The new statement from organizations in-country since the passage of the bill, goes on to say, “It is extremely regrettable that despite widespread criticism from copyright experts and the sincere concerns of our country’s authors and publishers who rely on copyright to make a living and to contribute to society, the legislature chooses to simply proceed with this bill that will do so much harm to our book industry.”

The four organizations pledge to “continue to amplify the voice and concerns of authors and local book publishers on this crucial bill, which we cannot support in its current form. Print-impaired persons can and should have the rights they deserve without assenting to this disastrous bill.

“We urge the president not to sign it.”

A Programming Note

From left are Glenn Rollans, Maria A. Pallante, Dan Conway, and Nicola Solomon

At  2:15 p.m. GMT, on March 12 at London Book Fair (March 12 to 14), four key players will join us when Publishing Perspectives moderates a Main Stage discussion, Copyright and AI: A Global Discussion of Machines, Humans, and the Law, an advanced-level conversation exploring the risks and opportunities within the rapidly evolving era of artificial intelligence.

The session will feature:


More from Publishing Perspectives on copyright is here. More from us on South Africa’s market is here, more on Canada’s Copyright Modernization Act is here, and more on international copyright protection challenges is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.