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Organisations to highlight plight of the blind and visually impaired

The organisations are challenging South Africa’s copyright regime so that every person who is blind or visually-impaired can – in formats that are accessible to them – immediately get access to the vast libraries of published works available to sighted people.Image:File

The organisations are challenging South Africa’s copyright regime so that every person who is blind or visually-impaired can – in formats that are accessible to them – immediately get access to the vast libraries of published works available to sighted people.Image:File

Published Apr 25, 2022

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As a watershed case will be heard at the Constitutional Court next month, BLIND SA and SECTION27 will use World Book/Copyright Day as an opportunity to highlight the unconstitutionality of the Copyright Act of 1978, for limiting access to books for persons who are blind or visually-impaired.

The organisations are challenging South Africa’s copyright regime so that every person who is blind or visually-impaired can – in formats that are accessible to them – immediately get access to the vast libraries of published works available to sighted people.

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The High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division, Pretoria) found the Copyright Act unconstitutional in a September 2021 case brought by BLIND SA and SECTION27, for violating the rights of persons who are blind or visually-impaired, in particular their rights to equality, dignity, basic and further education, freedom of expression, language and participation in the cultural life of one’s choice.

“It is now up to the Constitutional Court to confirm this order of unconstitutionality and ‘read in’ or add a section to the current Copyright Act, which includes an exception to copyright law specifically for persons with disabilities. Should the Constitutional Court confirm the High Court’s order, the ‘reading in’ of this exception would be immediate, and would instantly give persons who are blind or visually-impaired the ability to convert books into accessible formats without the risk of criminal sanction,” said a joint statement from the organisations.

The organisations say that many countries around the world have exceptions in their Copyright law for persons with disabilities. In the absence of such an exception here, persons who are blind or visually disabled have to ask for permission from the copyright holder to convert a book into an accessible format like Braille, audio, large print or Digitally Accessible Information System (DAISY).

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“This process is not only very costly, but can take a long time – and requests for format shifting are often denied or ignored. As things stand currently, persons who are blind or visually disabled experience a book famine, with fewer than 0,5% of published works in South Africa made available in accessible formats such as Braille,” added the organisations.

BLIND SA and Section27 says that an exception like this is not widely contested globally or even locally – proposed section 19D in the Copyright Amendment Bill would allow persons with disabilities to convert published works into accessible formats without the consent of the copyright holder.

“We will be asking the court to ‘read in’ section 19D with immediate effect so that people who are blind or visually impaired can access works under copyright in accessible formats. We have further asked that the reading in should be made permanent after 12 months if Parliament has not yet finalised the legislative process for the Copyright Amendment Bill,” said the statement

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World Book/Copyright Day is celebrated globally on April 23 and for many, a day to celebrate the worlds of possibilities provided by books added the statement

“On this day, however, persons who are blind or visually-impaired are reminded of the difficulties they face when trying to convert books into formats they can read.

BLIND SA and SECTION27 believe that by confirming the Copyright Act as unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court has the power to reverse decades long discrimination against people who are blind or visually-impaired,” the organisations said

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BLIND SA, represented by SECTION27 will advance their arguments before the highest court in the country on May 12, 2022.

They says that members of the two organisations and partners to the case will peacefully picket outside the Constitutional Court that day to protest the discrimination caused by our current Copyright Act, to show their support for the case.

@TheStar_News

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