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Decision for persons with visual impairment, other disabilities to access literary works welcomed

A court has paved the way for persons with visual impairment and other disabilities, to access literary works in readable format. Picture: File

A court has paved the way for persons with visual impairment and other disabilities, to access literary works in readable format. Picture: File

Published Oct 5, 2021

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Pretoria - The International Commission of Jurists has welcomed the decision by the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria paving the way for persons with visual impairment and other disabilities, to access literary works in readable format.

The commission participated as a third party in the case of Blind SA against the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition.

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The NGO which works to improve the quality of life of visually impaired persons in South Africa was represented by Section27 in the matter.

It challenged the constitutionality of South Africa’s Copyright Act on the grounds that it violated a range of constitutional rights of visually impaired persons, including their rights to dignity and equality.

“Equal access to reading materials is a fundamental human right. The Copyright Act not only violates the various constitutional rights but also fails to comply with South Africa’s obligations to persons with disabilities under international law.

“A declaration of constitutional invalidity will allow for easier access to books and other reading materials to persons with visual impairments, and should be celebrated as a victory for human rights and the rule of law in South Africa,” the commission’s Africa director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, said.

The commission was admitted as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case and supported the arguments raised by Blind SA. It drew attention to, among others, international law and standards on the rights to education and cultural life, protected under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Copyright Act, which is an apartheid era law, failed to make provision for persons with visual impairments and other print disabilities to convert, reproduce or distribute copyrighted works into a format they can read without the copyright holder’s permission.

This has made it very difficult for those persons to access literary works in readable formats, placing an impermissible barrier in their access to reading materials necessary for education and full participation in cultural life. After hearing arguments from all parties, the court declared the Copyright Act unconstitutional, noting that it violated various rights of blind and visually impaired persons, and did not comply with the Marrakesh Treaty.

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