Copyright Amendment Bill

When President Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation Address in Parliament this week, he would do well to announce some positive news amidst the doom and the darkness.

On Thursday, the President has an ideal opportunity to announce at SONA that he will send the Copyright Amendment Bill back to Parliament for reconsideration. This will bring much-needed relief to the many South Africans worried about the Bill’s impact on intellectual property rights and our beleaguered economy.

This week the United States of America narrowed the list of countries it considers developing and least-developed. Under the WTO Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures (SCM Agreement), WTO Members that have not yet reached the status of a developed country are entitled to special treatment.

The result of this change will be the elimination of special preferences for countries including BRICS partners Brazil; China; India; and South Africa.

The Copyright Amendment Bill in its current form will compound this loss with negative far-reaching consequences on growth and jobs. For example:

  • A socio-economic study conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers found that 1,250 jobs will be lost in the publishing industry alone if the Bill is enacted.
  • Global multinationals have also warned that they will no longer be able to invest in South Africa under the precarious intellectual property regime established by the Bill.
  • The Office of the United States Trade Representative is currently conducting a review of South Africa’s eligibility for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) under the United States Trade Act. An adverse finding would threaten R34 billion in export revenue derived from trade with the United States of America.

These avoidable economic consequences of the Bill, over and above the extensive list of South Africa’s existing challenges, will have crippling consequences.

Besides its economic impact, the Copyright Amendment Bill is unconstitutional as it violates the right to property, arbitrarily depriving content creators of their intellectual property rights.

As such, referring the Bill back to Parliament is not an option; it is a constitutional imperative in light of the glaring constitutional flaws in the Bill.

The arguments around the Bill are complex but the solution is not. By referring the Bill back to Parliament, the President will allow industry players to engage further amongst themselves and with the government to find consensus on a way forward.

The creative and cultural sector has languished in limbo long enough. A decision on the Bill is long overdue. At SONA, the President has an opportunity to halt the job losses and trade disruptions which are looming as a result of the Copyright Amendment Bill.

Parliament deserves a second chance to ensure that the Bill which is eventually enacted puts in place the best possible intellectual property regime to meet the needs of the industry and the challenges of the future.

A future-oriented intellectual property regime must accord with international law and international developments in copyright protections. An advanced intellectual property system must balance the needs of content users, content creators and the industry as a whole adequately.

The Copyright Coalition of South Africa, therefore, implores President Ramaphosa to take advantage of this opportunity. The State of the Nation Address is a fitting occasion for the President to set out the path forward on the Bill.

The Copyright Coalition of South Africa, representing a broad consensus within the creative and cultural sector, therefore urges President Ramaphosa to refer the Copyright Amendment Bill back to Parliament.

BY COLLEN DLAMINI
CHAIRPERSON FOR THE COPYRIGHT COALITION OF SOUTH AFRICA (CCSA)

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