/ 5 February 2020

Dear Cyril, sign the Copyright Amendment Bill

Send copyright Bill back to Parliament, Mr President
(John McCann/M&G)

We are individuals and organisations representing teachers, students, librarians, filmmakers, actors, musicians, game developers, journalists, freedom of expression activists, disability rights activists and others.

We urge you to immediately sign into law the Copyright Amendment Bill and Performers’ Protection Bill, which were passed by Parliament almost a year ago.

We are aware of the considerable publicity in the media focused on opposition to the Bills by certain interest groups and foreign governments. We understand that this may have exercised your mind a great deal and that this might be responsible for the delay. We are also alert to the public debate on the constitutionality of the Bills. 

We are nevertheless of the view that the Bills are constitutional.

This legislation is vital to achieve the objectives of promoting inclusive economic growth, broadening access to education and creating jobs. Moreover, the Bills are vital to propel us forward into the fourth industrial revolution with South Africans as contributors, not passive subjects.

May we also draw your attention to the fact that the matter is urgent because the rights of several groups are being denied by the failure to allow the Bills to pass into law.

* Blind and partially sighted people are being denied rights to information;

* Actors, musicians and fine artists are being denied royalty income commensurate with their work;

* Journalists, filmmakers and photographers are being denied the right to own their work and the right to incidental use of materials;

* Learners, students, teachers and academics are being denied the right to access essential educational materials; and 

* Writers, authors and composers are being denied the ability to ensure copyrights revert to them in good time.

There is a great deal of innovation and investment into South Africa that is being deterred by failure to sign the Bills. Technology companies require a balanced approach to copyright to invest in new growth sectors such as artificial intelligence. 

An IP expert, Ruth Okediji of Harvard University, cited in South Africa recently that in the United States alone more than $3-trillion of economic activity results from industries that rely on fair-use rights like the one the Bill proposes. 

The Constitution requires the president to act rationally and within reasonable time in signing Bills into law or alternately referring specific sections back, if there are true constitutional conflicts. 

Late last year we took the liberty of sending you an opinion from leading senior counsel on the Bills, and no constitutional obstacles, which would prevent the Bills being implemented, were identified.

We believe from reports in the media that you have obtained your own advice from your ministers on the Bills. We kindly ask that you make this advice public, so that any legitimate issues raised can be debated. Should your ministers have any outstanding concerns, we feel certain these may be addressed in the regulations to the Bills. 

The exceptions and limitations to copyright, including fair use, are in line with international best practice and our Constitution. More than 70% of African and Latin American countries have educational rights similar to those proposed in the Bills. Many developed countries have enjoyed similar rights for decades. 

We feel it would be harmful and detrimental to our country for you to allow further time to elapse before passing the Bills into law. 


Mugwena Maluleke, general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union; Anele Yawa, general secretary, Treatment Action Campaign; Umunyana Rugege, executive director of Section27; Zak Yacoob, former justice of the Constitutional Court; William Bird, Media Monitoring Africa; Tinyiko Ntini, national secretary of the Young Communist League of South Africa; Thembinkosi Josopu, president of the South African Youth Council; Vatiswa Ndara, United Voices for Change; Douglas Ian Scott, president of WikiMedia South Africa; Peggy Pillay, Johannesburg Against Injustice; Tebogo Sithathu, Gospel Music Association; Collence Takaingenhamo Chisita, research fellow information sciences; Leti Kleyn, scholarly publishing consultant; Denise Nicholson, specialist copyright librarian; Tobias Schonwetter, UCT IP Unit (Faculty of Law); Ben Cashdan, ReCreate South Africa; Rehad Desai, filmmaker; Jace Nair, SA Right to Read Coalition; Africa Marrakech Committee; Christo de Klerk, BlindSA.