Blind SA has scored an important victory in the Gauteng High Court after a decades-long campaign to end the book famine for blind and partially sighted people.

The court ruled that the apartheid era Copyright Act of 1978 is unconstitutional.

According to a Daily Maverick report, the court ruled that the old Copyright Act was unconstitutional because it limits people with visual and print disabilities from accessing reading materials under copyright in formats such as Braille, among others.

Blind SA CEO Jace Nair said: ‘We dedicate this victory to blind and partially sighted people in this country and all the activists who have supported us in our endeavours. This is a huge victory that we can now move forward with.’

Blind SA has long argued that the Act limits people with visual and print disabilities from having access to works in formats such as Braille, audio versions or copies of published works in large print.

That’s because the vast majority of books are published in print and not in formats that are accessible to persons with visual and print disabilities. 

Represented by Section27, Blind SA asked the court to amend the outdated Act by ‘reading in’ section 19D of the Copyright Amendment Bill (CAB) which allows general exceptions regarding protection of copyright works for people with disabilities.

 In other words, notes the DM report, this section would allow people with disabilities to develop or import accessible format copies of published works without first having to secure the permission of the copyright holder, thus greatly improving access to reading materials.

Section27 attorney, Demichelle Petherbridge, said confirmation of the ruling will be sought from the Constitutional Court ‘as soon as we get the physical copy of the High Court order’.

Petherbridge noted that while the Copyright Act is unconstitutional it also violates rights such as freedom of expression, equality, dignity and basic education and the right to participate in the cultural life of one’s choice.

Meanwhile, Nair said that even though the High Court’s ruling was welcomed, Blind SA has not lost sight of the Copyright Amendment Bill and continues to support the Bill being signed into law without further delay. 

‘For us, the struggle is still not over. We firmly believe in the provisions of the CAB to ensure that blind and partially sighted authors, composers, performers and musicians and publishers must be able to benefit from the broader provisions of the CAB. We also believe that Fair Use for educational purposes would enable us to have more access to literary works. We will continue our advocacy with Parliament and the provincial legislatures to try to speed up the signing of the Bill into law. It is as important to us as what we have achieved today.’

In a statement following the ruling, notes the DM report, Section27 welcomed the decision, saying: ‘This is a massive victory for people who are blind or visually impaired, as well as learners with disabilities, who will 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.’

Full Daily Maverick report