Under the apartheid-era Copyright Act, it’s pratically impossible for people with visual and print disabilities to get accessible versions of published works without falling foul of the law.
But a case set to come before the High Court in Johannesburg this month seeks to finally change that.
Earlier this year, Blind SA launched a legal challenge to the Act on the basis that it does not provide for people with these types of disabilities to access protected books and other reading material in, for example, braille.
The case has now been set down for later this month.
With works not published in accessible formats, which are in the majority, the only option for people with visual and print disabilities is contacting copyright owners individually and securing authorisation.
Flouting this constitutes an offence punishable by a fine or even imprisonment.
The Copyright Act Amendment Bill currently with parliament proposes changes to the Act, among them the introduction of section 19D which provides for access.
But passing the Bill has proved to be a lengthy process with certain clauses courting controversy.
While section 19D was not among them, Blind SA chief executive Jace Nair said in the organisation’s founding papers in its challenge, that this crucial update was now effectively being “held hostage”.
The organisation is asking the court to read section 19D into the current Act for now.
Nair argued that as it stood, the Act limited those with visual and print disabilities’ rights to equality, human dignity, education and freedom of expression.
Further, he argued, it didn’t align with international commitments and was delaying South Africa’s ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons