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Constitutional Court reserves judgment in Blind SA copyright case

The high court had ruled the act was unconstitutional because of the barriers it imposed on persons who are blind or visually impaired who want to convert books into accessible formats like Braille. Picture REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The high court had ruled the act was unconstitutional because of the barriers it imposed on persons who are blind or visually impaired who want to convert books into accessible formats like Braille. Picture REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Published May 13, 2022

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Cape Town - Judgment has been reserved in the landmark Constitutional Court case brought by activists from Blind SA and Section 27 about access to books for people with visual disabilities.

The activists wanted the court to confirm an order of constitutional invalidity made by the Gauteng High Court sitting in Pretoria, to the effect that the 1978 Copyright Act is unconstitutional.

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The high court had ruled the act was unconstitutional because of the barriers it imposed on persons who are blind or visually impaired who want to convert books into accessible formats like Braille.

Arguing the case for the activists, advocate Jonathan Berger said they wanted the court to “read-in” or insert the proposed section 19D of the Copyright Amendment Bill.

Berger said this would create exceptions to the Copyright Act for the benefit of the blind and people with visual and print disabilities and vastly improve access to reading materials.

“We are asking the court to make this reading-in immediate, and make the inclusion permanent if Parliament does not resolve issues with the Copyright Amendment Bill within one year.”

Currently, if a person who is blind converts a text into a format that they can read, without the copyright holder’s permission, they can be fined, imprisoned or sued.

Berger said if the court were to order the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition to make regulations and provide a time-frame within which to do it, the time-frame would need to be as short as is reasonably possible.

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“Coupled with it is that if there is non-compliance, there needs to be some kind of consequence for non-compliance,” Berger said.

Involved in the case as friends of the court were Stellenbosch University’s Anton Mostert Chairperson of Intellectual Property Prof Owen Dean, Media Monitoring Africa Trust and the International Commission of Jurists.

Outlining the arguments made by Media Monitoring Africa Trust, advocate Michael Power said: “The violence the Copyright Act visits on people with print and visual disabilities must be remedied.”

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Power said there was a need to cross the digital divide and ensure equitable access and dignity for all.

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Cape Argus

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