Blind SA headed to high court over the Copyright Act

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Blind SA is calling for changes to the 1978 Copyright Act so that blind and partially sighted people can access all published works in a format accessible to them.

The organisation, which will be represented by Section 27, has approached the high court to have the Act amended, arguing that it is unconstitutional and violates the basic human rights of blind and partially sighted people.

“The current Copyright Act of 1978 forces people who are blind or visually impaired to secure the permission of the copyright holder to translate or convert the publication into a format that is accessible. But copyright holders often reject these requests or ignore this altogether,” Blind SA says on its website

“People who are blind or visually impaired experience a book famine, with less than 0.5% of publications available in accessible formats like braille, audio or ‘daisy’. In many cases, for example in rural or underdeveloped contexts, people who are blind or visually impaired lack any accessible formatted reading materials altogether.”

With templates available to convert books and work into braille, it can be a painless process. But the Copyright Act allows no exemptions. Converting an average novel of about 300 pages to braille by producing a master copy would take 28 days and cost R24 000.

“This results in us not having access to those already existing templates and we then have to reinvent the wheel: reproduce what exists already at great expense of time and money — which many of us cannot afford,” BlindSA says.

The organisation has received the support of former constitutional court judge Zak Yacoob

“Even though I am an empowered blind person, the reading deficit was so big when I was a child that even today, my children have read more books than I have. I, therefore, believe that it is extremely urgent for books to be made available for blind and visually impaired people, in formats that they prefer [electronic, recorded or braille], so that they can advance themselves,” Yacoob said.

The case will be heard on 21 September in the high court sitting in Johannesburg.

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