Advocating for equal rights. South Africa’s copyright law needs to enhance accessibility of reading materials to blind and visually impaired people.
For immediate release
Today (12 May 2022), the International Commission of Jurists, represented by Equal Education Law Centre, heads to the Constitutional Court as a friend of the court to ensure that South Africa’s copyright law allows for enhanced accessibility of reading material to persons with disabilities
In 2021, BLINDSA, represented by SECTION27, approached the Pretoria High Court to test the Constitutionality of the Copyright Act given that it fails to provide for exceptions to copyright law that allows for easier access of reading materials to persons with disabilities.
ICJ’s submissions sought to assist the court in interpreting South Africa’s obligations under international human rights law. These submissions made plain that international human rights law should not be construed in legislation so as to subordinate it to international copyright law and international trade law but should interpret it harmoniously, instead.
This matter was heard in the Pretoria High Court on 21 September 2021 and Justice Mbongwe handed down a judgement on 7 December 2021. The High Court agreed with the ICJ’s arguments held that:
“In my view, a developing country such as ours can ill-afford to not keep abreast with international standards more so on matters commonly affecting human rights and humanity worldwide. A coherent international approach that manifests in the laws of the individual States is the most practical mechanism to employ in such instances.”
In terms of South African law, orders of unconstitutionality must be confirmed by the Constitutional Court. BLINDSA have now approached the Constitutional Court to have the order confirmed. Today, at the hearing, ICJ, and the EELC, will again aim to assist the Court in interpreting South Africa’s International law obligations.
While the South African copyright regime continues to undergo lengthy reconsideration, deliberation and legislative delays, persons with print disabilities continue to be disadvantaged and, at present, may only have access to a mere one percent of all books in accessible formats. It is this human impact that should be at the centre of the inquiry in determining the appropriate remedy.
We hope that the long struggle for inclusion and equitable access to reading materials will finally come to an end, and that the rights of persons with visual and print disabilities will be finally realised.
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The Equal Education Law Centre EELC is a public interest litigation organisation which seeks to address systemic inequalities in the South African education system through coordinated strategies, advocacy and action to bring about sustained change. The EELC provides a daily walk-in clinic, which offers free legal support to individuals and communities. The lawyers employed by the EELC provide legal support, litigation where necessary, and on the ground interventions to assist marginalised learners and community members in realising their rights to equality, dignity and education.