South African authors protest against Copyright Amendment Bill

Support by Wilbur Smith If you want to learn something new the best way is to read a book. In order for books to be written, authors, of all shapes and stripes, need to be paid for their work. Respecting the value of copyright is the only way to keep this ecosystem alive. Changing our current copyright law will mean less support for writers which in turn will lead to less time spent writing books. It’s a poverty we can’t afford.
Support by Athol Fugard I completely endorse the stand taken by the publishing industry and my peers against the proposed Copyright Amendment Bill. It presents a direct threat to the livelihood of our writers, and therefore, to all the South African stories that are waiting to be told. I can only see this as dealing a devastating blow to the extraordinary literary potential of our country.

Authors deserve better than what the legislature has given them in the Copyright Amendment Bill that is being railroaded through Parliament despite local and international opposition.

As authors’ associations, we are calling on our members, as well as other authors and interested parties to spread the word about this bill and sign a petition against its adoption. 

We are convinced that many of the changes to the Copyright Act introduced by the Copyright Amendment Bill will have a direct and detrimental impact on all South African authors.

Further, the Bill is not in line with the international copyright treaties that South Africa has acceded to, and in all probability also runs contrary to the Constitution.

The electronic version of the Bill is available at: 

Support by Jennifer Clement, president of PEN International PEN International, as the oldest and largest organisation of writers in the world,  takes copyright very seriously.  One part of our PEN International COPYRIGHT MANIFESTO clearly states, “An author’s economic independence and autonomy is central to freedom of expression and encourages a diversity of voices, which in turn fosters democracy.To deny authors the ability to earn monetary reward from their creative works is to deny the works value and their authors a livelihood. Using the intellectual property of an author without fair recompense, and in the absence of a legitimate legal exception to the author’s copyright, is theft.”
Support by JM Coetzee I endorse the position taken by PEN, as well as by the organizations IPA, IAF, IFRRO and PASA. Please add my name to the list of signatories of the petition – signature page attached.
Support by Gabeba Baderoon What makes art possible? I oppose the Copyright Amendment Bill because it undermines the whole ecology of generative relations that sustain writers and artists by unreasonably expanding the definition of “fair use” of their work without compensation. What is at stake with this overreaching Bill is not only the capacity of individual artists to patch together a living, already a challenge, but the very way we make culture. We all learn by encountering, discussing, and being inspired by art, certainly I have, but the fair way to ensure access to work is not by making it impossible to make in the first place. This is why I oppose this Bill. Please join me.

We are opposed to the following:

  • The procedure through which the Bill is being railroaded through Parliament

Authors, publishers and the wider creative industries have been remarkably invested in the consultation process, submitting commentary and participating constructively despite unreasonably short deadlines throughout the years that the Bill has been in development.

Despite constructive participation, with significant investment of time and financial resources, there has not been any meaningful engagement with authors about their concerns, every one of which has been ignored.

In what seems to be a case of merely going through the motions, the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Trade and Industry proceeded to ignore the input they received that was not aligned with the policy directions that they had apparently already decided upon.

The Portfolio Committee has now approved the Copyright Amendment Bill and handed it over to the National Assembly to adopt as legislation.

Support by Deon Meyer: I am deeply concerned about the influence of the new legislation on our nation’s future. It will undoubtedly make it even harder to earn a living as an author, and has the real potential to turn us into a country without books of our own. Which means our history, our dreams for the future and our understanding of the present will disappear. And that’s another kind of poverty we can’t afford.
Support by Jacques Pauw: The new Copyright Amendment Bill flies in the face of international practice and should ultimately be rejected by Parliament. It is ludicrous that Government wants to make it even harder for authors and publishers to earn a decent living. I am concerned that the Bill will be severely prejudicial to the creative industries and the cultural sector.
Support by Achmat Dangor: The proposed Copyright Amendment Bill cannot come at a worse time for South Africa, which is struggling to overcome  the widespread illiteracy that is part of our dark, Apartheid past. So many schools do not have adequately resourced libraries, and many schools do not have an embedded culture of reading. This law that will limit the rights of writers and publishers, will aggravate the situation. “Cry The Beloved Country!”
  • The introduction of “fair use”

It has been stated that “fair use” does not mean use that is fair. Fair use is, rather, a legal doctrine derived from US law. As opposed to fair dealing, which is an established part of South African copyright law, fair use does not work with a closed list of permitted uses. It is open-ended and requires courts to decide whether a particular use qualifies as “fair”.

There is no need to adopt this doctrine into South African law. It will result in significant legal uncertainty and places the onus on the copyright owner to institute court proceedings to challenge unauthorised use of their work. Authors typically cannot afford to do this, and our courts surely do not need the additional workload.

The existing fair dealing provisions should rather have been expanded as required.

Support by Breyten Breytenbach As much as I’m convinced that the stories and histories and songs of our country constitute the veritable binding that can remind us of our shared humanity, and the grounding we need to explore the richness of our diversity, the gift of our legacy, the textures of our struggles, the colour of our dreams  – (and what more wonderful gift can there be than to make these part of every South African’s formative experiences?) – as much I am convinced that the proposed legislation to replace existing channels and guarantees (which shaped the respect for the work produced and protected the need to continue producing) will inevitably lead to ‘unfair abuse’ of the rights coming with the responsibilities of writing, publishing and distribution.To pretend otherwise is to exploit a need for the deeper understanding of who we are and try to become under the false banner of supposedly equal access. Let us not allow this cultural and creative impoverishment of generations to come!
Support by Evita Bezuidenhout Surely “copyright” means just that: protection of original copy. So once this law is passed it will mean: ©:copyright (t’s & c’s apply).
Support by Colin Smuts As artists we don’t have protection in this country. There are no state grants to allow writers to practice as full-time writers. There is no protection or payment when every year poetry and script is photostatted, by the hundreds of pages, by lecturers who use the material for teaching purposes at our universities and high schools. Other than the copyright act we are very limited in law when it comes to the use of our work. That is why we must … resist and challenge this proposed legislation to ensure it doesn’t become law!
  • The introduction of wide-ranging exceptions to copyright protection, among others for educational purposes

Education and research are undoubtedly important public policy considerations, and we fully support the right to access to information. However, we object to the proposed weakening of copyright protection to achieve these goals.

The introduction of wide-ranging exceptions and limitations could discourage authors from writing books and publishers from taking the financial risk to publish those books, as it would create a climate within which freely copying copyright works for a wide range of purposes is permitted.

Many authors earn their livelihood from writing for the education market. The education market is by far the largest sector within the book publishing industry. Allowing copying of books and inclusion of copyright material in course packs instead of encouraging educational institutions to purchase copies of books, or licences to reproduce copyright works, erodes authors’ rights and drastically curtails their ability to make a living.

Authors rely on copyright to make a living in order to continue contributing to creating a reading and writing culture.

We implore the legislature to reconsider its adoption of the Copyright Amendment Bill. It is steering us into a crisis.

It should also be noted that various international organisations have weighed in on the calamitous course the legislature is taking with this bill. Their statements are available here:

We call on all authors and interested parties to sign the petition below. It will be presented to the Minister of Trade and Industry.

Petition text:

The Copyright Amendment Bill does not strike a fair balance between the interests of the authors and the interests of the “users” of copyright works. It is not in line with international copyright treaties. I strongly object to its adoption.