A group of prominent South African individuals, trade unions and non-profit organisations have urged president Cyril Ramaphosa to sign the draft Copyright Amendment Bill and Performers’ Protection Bill into law.
The open letter – published by the Mail & Guardian – includes signatories such as the former justice of the Constitutional Court Zak Yacoob and Umunyana Rugege, executive director of Section27.
They argue that the legislation is vital for the promotion of inclusive economic growth, broadening access to education and creating jobs in South Africa.
“There is a great deal of innovation and investment into South Africa that is being deterred by failure to sign the nills,” the letter states.
“Technology companies require a balanced approach to copyright to invest in new growth sectors such as artificial intelligence.”
The groups also argue that the rights of several groups are being denied by the failure to allow the bills to pass into law. These include that:
- 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.
“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,” the letter states.
The proposed legislation is a point of significant controversy because it could damage South Africa’s trade relations with the US as it is seen to violate terms of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) under the US Trade Act.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative is now holding public hearings in Washington D.C. on South Africa’s eligibility for the GSP programme.
The country’s eligibility for the GSP programme has been called into question as a result of the passing of the Copyright Amendment Bill in parliament last year.
If South Africa loses its GSP eligibility, the country will potentially lose up to R34 billion in export revenue, the Copyright Coalition of South Africa (CCSA) has warned.
“Our country cannot afford the diplomatic stress, loss of export revenue, and the thousands of jobs that these South African exports create.
“Our current GSP designation allows South Africa preferential duty-free access to US markets for selected export products. Should the upcoming review find that the Copyright Amendment Bill does not adequately protect US intellectual property, South Africa will lose its GSP designation,” it said.
The office of the United States Trade Representative said in October 2019 that it would review South Africa’s eligibility to participate in its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) based on a petition it had received.
The GSP is the largest and oldest US trade preference programme.
It is designed to promote economic development by allowing duty-free entry into the United States for 3,500 products from the 119 designated beneficiary countries and territories.
To remain eligible for these advantages, beneficiary countries must comply with 15 statutory eligibility criteria that are important to US interests, including taking steps to afford internationally recognized labour rights, providing adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights, and assuring equitable and reasonable access to its markets.
Under the GSP programme and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), sub-Saharan African countries are granted duty-free access to the US market for more than 6,000 products.
These include: meat, fruit, vegetables, precious metals, chemicals, iron and steel products, and a range of manufactured goods.