ConCourt victory for Blind SA in braille access fight

The Constitutional Court has confirmed that the Copyright Act is unlawful for limiting access to books in accessible formats (braille) to blind people.

The court found that sections 6 and 7, read with section 23 of the Copyright Act 98 of 1978, are unconstitutional, invalid and inconsistent with the rights of persons with visual and print disabilities.

Immediate conversion to braille

“These provisions of the Copyright Act limit the access of such persons to published literary works, and artistic works as may be included in such literary works, in accessible format copies,” reads the ConCourt judgement.

The ruling immediately allows blind and visually impaired people to instantly translate books into accessible formats.

“The accessible format copy must be used exclusively by beneficiary persons and it must respect the integrity of the original work, taking due consideration the changes needed to make the work accessible in the alternative format and the accessibility needs of the beneficiary persons.”

The ruling allows for ‘permitted entities’, which include government and non-profit organisations that provide education, and instructional training to translate texts without the author’s permission.

It also allows the accessible format copy to be duplicated and “distributed to beneficiary persons by any
means, including non-commercial lending or electronic communication by wire or wireless means, and undertaking any intermediate steps to achieve those objectives, provided that all of the following conditions are met.”

‘Book famine’ at an end

“Given that the majority of published books are not published in accessible format copies, that is, formats accessible to persons with visual and print disabilities, such persons must secure authorisation to convert books into accessible format copies,” the judgment read.

Last May, BlindSA and Section 27 revealed that less than 0.5% of publications contain accessible formats to covert literature into braille for blind or visually disabled people in South Africa.

Section 27’s Julia Chaskalson at the time said blind and visually impaired people in South Africa were victims of a ‘book famine,’ saying the copyright act was a stumbling block in overcoming this challenge.

The ConCourt has given Parliament two years to correct the Copyright Act.

As we celebrate #WorldBookDay2021, we think about the barriers to accessing books and reading materials, especially for people who are blind or visually impaired. This is why #copyright reform matters – a thread. ???? #EndTheBookFamine @BlindSA_NGO

— SECTION27 (@SECTION27news) April 23, 2021

NOW READ: ‘Unconstitutional’ Copyright Act limits access to braille literature

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