A girl reads her braille copy of the final book in the Harry Potter series. BlindSA and Section27 had called for copyright reform so that people who were blind could access all published works in accessible formats. Picture: Reuters
A girl reads her braille copy of the final book in the Harry Potter series. BlindSA and Section27 had called for copyright reform so that people who were blind could access all published works in accessible formats. Picture: Reuters

Victory for blind, visually impaired people in accessing books

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Sep 23, 2021

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Pretoria - In a major first step victory for visually impaired people, the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, has declared that the Copyright Act of 1978 is invalid for violating their rights.

BlindSA and Section27 had called for copyright reform so that people who were blind could access all published works in accessible formats.

The outdated Copyright Act made it near-impossible for blind or visually impaired people to access books and reading material.

The act stipulated that in order to convert a book or any published work into Braille, or an accessible format, permission must be secured from the copyright holder.

It is said that these holders often simply ignore or reject these requests.

The court, meanwhile, declared that the current Copyright Act was invalid and unconstitutional because it limited or prevented people with visual disabilities from accessing works under copyright in formats that they could read.

As it stood, it also did not include provisions designed to enable access to works under copyright as envisaged by the Marrakesh Treaty.

The court ordered that a provision must be added to allow for an exception to copyright for people with disabilities so that they can convert published works into accessible formats like Braille, large print, and in a digitally accessible format.

While the court did declare this legislation outdated, the fight is not over.

The order of the court must now be confirmed by the Constitutional Court.

BlindSA and Section 27 will soon be applying to the Constitutional Court to confirm this order, after the case was heard on an unopposed basis.

Julia Chaskalson of Section27 said this was also a victory for learners with disabilities, who would now be able to access works under copyright in accessible formats more easily.

“This challenge to apartheid-era copyright law will vindicate the constitutional rights of people who are blind or visually impaired to equality, dignity, basic and further education, freedom of expression, language and participation in the cultural life of one’s choice,” she said.

“The current Copyright Act has resulted in a book famine for people with visual disabilities, but this will be rectified by the proposed section 19D from the Copyright Amendment Bill, which would allow exceptions to copyright for people with disabilities,” Chaskalson said.

She said the section would now allow persons with disabilities to convert published works into accessible formats without the consent of the copyright holder.

Despite the fact that section 19D is not contested and widely accepted as a necessary section to enable human rights for people with disabilities, it is being delayed through a lengthy legislative process in Parliament.

Judge Mandla Mbongwe, in granting the order, said: “I am persuaded that the Copyright Act does indeed infringe and adversely impact on a variety of rights of persons, particularly those with disabilities, specifically the visually impaired persons.”

He added that it was thus proper that the blind and visually impaired had access to these copyright works and that their rights were protected in the meantime, until the Constitutional Court had spoken the last word.

Pretoria News

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