World Publishing to Ramaphosa: Don’t Sign Copyright Bill

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

IPA, IFRRO, STM, and IAF appeal to South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, to refrain from signing the market’s new copyright bill.

On the Saartjie Baartman Steps at the University of Cape Town, June 15, 2023. International publishing organizations are warning the South African president that his market’s newly passed copyright bill ‘will decimate the production of educational and academic content by South African authors and publishers for South African teachers and students.” Image – Getty iStockphoto: Five Point Six

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

‘Void of the Guardrails Imposed by international law
Today (March 20)—in a follow-up to our coverage of South Africa’s controversial and contentious Copyright Amendment Bill–four major international organizations in book publishing have issued their own request that Cyril Ramaphosa in Cape Town, the country’s president, decline to sign the bill.

Publishing Perspectives’ international professional book-business readers will recall that the South African National Assembly passed the bill on February 29 despite the appeals of this same group of international organizations and the alarm of many in the cultural sector of South Africa itself.

By March 6, the Publishers Association of South Africa and joined three sister organizations in-country to make a similar appeal to the president’s office, working to dissuade Ramaphosa from signing the bill.

As in their Feburary 28 appeal ahead of passage of the bill, 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).

Together, they write, “The reasons leading to the president’s referral of the Bill back to the National Assembly in 2020 included copyright exceptions that ‘may constitute arbitrary deprivation of property; may violate the right to freedom of trade, occupation, and profession, and may be in conflict with’ international treaties to which South Africa is a contracting party or a signatory.

“A long process followed the president’s decision, but the defective provisions have remained unaddressed, despite semantic non-substantive changes. Writers and the whole publishing and book industry stand united against an ill-constructed bill that jeopardizes South Africa’s literary diversity and educational content production.”

Ramaphosa is hardly unaware of the issue and of the protests being voiced to the new bill and its perceived flaws.

At Music Africa, Ano Shumba on Tuesday (March 19) wrote about South Africa’s creative community meeting with the governing African National Congress (ANC) “to discuss the implications of the two pieces of legislation should they be signed into law by president Cyril Ramaphosa.”

Shumba reports that the ANC has agreed to meet with Ramaphosa on April 1 and press him not to sign the bill. A complicating factor, however, Shumba writes, is that representatives of the population’s reading-challenged community are in favor of the president’s signature so that exceptions in the bill will allow editions of content in accessible formats, such as are provided for in the WIPO-led Marrakesh Treaty.

‘Excessive and Defective Exceptions and Limitations’

In their new appeal to Ramaphosa, the four organizations urging that he decline signing the bill, write:

“The excessive and defective exceptions and limitations that remain in the bill will prevent the establishment of a fair marketplace for books and are especially penalizing for literary, educational, and academic copyrighted works.

Cyril Ramaphosa

“This is the result of an unprecedented, overly broad fair-use provision in S.12A, which remains unwarranted and is void of the guardrails imposed by international law.

“The numerous other exceptions and limitations in S. 12B, C and D and S. 19C further degrade the integrity of copyright protection by undermining the exclusive rights of reproduction, translation, and adaptation, which are the legal bedrock of the book sector.

“These provisions are arguably incompatible with the three-step test set out in international copyright treaties, as they’re not confined to certain special cases, instead making unauthorized access to copyrighted works the rule rather than the exception.

“The application of these provisions will result in significant damage to the legitimate interests of authors and publishers, as well as prevent the normal exploitation of their works, by systematically granting unauthorized and unpaid access to copyrighted works owned by author and publishers, undermining sales and licensing.”IPA, IFRRO, STM, IAF

“In addition, the application of these provisions will result in significant damage to the legitimate interests of authors and publishers, as well as prevent the normal exploitation of their works, by systematically granting unauthorized and unpaid access to copyrighted works owned by author and publishers, undermining sales and licensing.

“The few semantic changes made to some of these provisions do not accomplish compatibility with international treaties. Instead, they perpetuate legal uncertainty, compromising the sustainability of a rich and diverse South African literary and book sector. Moreover, the exceptions applicable to educational purposes will decimate the production of educational and academic content by South African authors and publishers for South African teachers and students.

“In a time when education is more important than ever, when policymakers around the world are concerned about the dangers of misinformation in the digital environment, such an outcome is unjustifiable.

“This bill has been opposed consistently by national and international voices from the book sector, in defense of South African literary and educational communities. We are deeply disappointed by the possibility of seeing irreversible damage happen, not only to our communities, but also to the South African creative economy. Degrading copyright protection in these terms will cause irreparable losses in employment, investment capacity, and tax payments, in addition to compromising compliance with international law.

“We call on president Ramaphosa to not give assent to the bill and instead be the voice of reason to defend laws that respect the South African constitution and the international treaties that South Africa has committed to respect.”

In alignment with the four organization’s position and corresponding to Ano Shumba’s report Music Africa, Itumeleng Mafisa is reporting at The Citizen that “African National Congress secretary-general Fikile Mbalula says the ruling party’s leadership will advise President Cyril Ramaphosa not to sign the controversial Copyright Amendment Bill.”


More from Publishing Perspectives on copyright is here. More from us on South Africa’s market is here, more on the International Publishers Association is here, more on the work of IFRRO is here, and more on international copyright protection challenges is here

Publishing Perspectives is the International Publishers Association’s world media partner.

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.