[A2k] Maverick Citizen: Copyright bill: Protesters picket outside US embassy

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Feb 25 05:28:38 PST 2020



By Linda Daniels• 24 February 2020

 Members of the Treatment Action Campaign joined the protest. Photo by Jack

Activists, unionists, and artists staged a picket outside the US embassy in
Pretoria yesterday, in protest at the ‘frivolous’ petition by big US
entertainment companies who complained about South Africa’s pending
copyright laws.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) complained in an 18
April 2019 petition that there was a lack of intellectual property
protection and enforcement in South Africa’s pending Performers Protection
Amendment Bill and the Copyright Amendment Bill. The IIPA’s complaint led
to a review by the US trade representative (USTR) of South Africa’s
preferred trade status with the US, under the Generalised System of

Established by the Trade Act of 1974, the Generalised System of Preferences
(GSP) is the largest and oldest US trade preference programme, which allows
duty-free imports from less developed countries.

Speaking from the frontlines of the picket, David Lydall, an organiser with
ReCreate South Africa, called the IIPA’s petition a “frivolous complaint”
to the USTR.

He said: “The protest action today was organised to hand over our demands
to the American embassy… so that they can conclude their review of the GSP
in favour of South Africa, because it is harming our economy.”

The picket was supported by representatives from the Treatment Action
Campaign, Right2Know, RecreateZA, South African Guild of Actors, BlindSA,
South African Right to Read Coalition, South African National Council for
the Blind, South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), South African
Communist Party and the Young Communist League of South Africa.

Sadtu’s head of secretariat, Xolani Fakude, said: “Sadtu joined a number of
its social partners today and… we are demanding that the president of South
Africa should sign the Copyright Amendment Bill and the Performers
Protection Amendment Bill into law.

“The president has had these bills for almost a year now and yet they have
not been signed and effected into law, and that is primarily because the
USTR has been delaying to conclude the benefits review of the Generalised
System of Preferences which are in favour of South Africa, and you’ve got
the IIPA which has been lobbying the USTR to sanction South Africa if the
Copyright Amendment Bill is signed into law.

“Now, specifically as a union in education, we believe that if the bill is
signed into law, it will protect authors and publishers while restraining
the excesses of a few publishing companies that exploit markets with
unwarranted prices. So, in South Africa you have no more than four
publishing companies that are making excessive profits from the learning
and teaching support material and they have turned our education into a

A memorandum was presented to the US embassy by protesters but it was not
formally accepted. The memorandum demanded that the US government conclude
the Generalised System of Preferences benefits review in favour of South
Africa and “condemn the corrupt lobbying by American corporations through
the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), and their local
proxies such as the Coalition for Effective Copyright”.

Blind SA has been leading the push for the Copyright Bill to be signed.
Photo by Jack Devnarain

The Coalition for Effective Copyright has called on President Cyril
Ramaphosa to refer the Copyright Amendment Bill back to Parliament for

However, international and local organisations have written to the
president asking him to make a decision about the Copyright Amendment
Bill’s fate and to sign it as a matter of urgency. Blind SA pointed out
that he has a constitutional duty to act on the bill, and that if he
doesn’t do so by the March 28 anniversary of the passing of the bill by
Parliament, then the organisation plans to take him to court.

In terms of Section 79 of the Constitution, Ramaphosa must either sign the
Copyright Amendment Bill within a reasonable period, or if there are
concerns of a constitutional nature, he can return it to the National
Assembly to address those concerns.

When the president signs the bill into law – referred to as assent –
relevant regulations will follow.

Meanwhile, the controversial USTR review is seen by some stakeholders as a
process that will not be concluded in the near future.

Professor Sean Flynn, the director of the Programme on Information Justice
and Intellectual Property at the Washington College of Law in Washington
DC, attended the USTR’s public hearing to make his submission in support of
the Copyright Amendment Bill.

The USTR review included a call for written submissions as well as a public
hearing, which was held in Washington DC on 31 January. Several
stakeholders including US businesses, academics and the South African
government made in-person submissions.

Flynn believes the USTR review process is not motivated by a sense of

“The process from here will not be swift and is unlikely to be completed
any time soon.

“This programme is designed to justify pressure and influence, not reach
quick and decisive conclusions.

“Many countries merely remain on these USTR watch lists of various kinds
for many, many years. South Africa will likely be asked to change its laws.
But it does not have to,” said Flynn.

The new US ambassador to South Africa, Lana Marks, is of the view that
South Africa is not going to lose preferential trade status under the
current USTR review.

Forty-two submissions have been lodged with the USTR and written
submissions will be accepted until 28 February. Trade and Industry Minister
Ebrahim Patel met officials in the US in December last year to discuss the
matter and will most likely continue discussions to resolve it.

Unrelated to the USTR review process, South Africa and other selected
countries may still be denied GSP benefits in the future. That’s because
South Africa was recently included on a US list of developing countries to
be graduated out of the definition of a developing country for a standard
used in countervailing duty investigations. This reported development has
triggered uncertainty in the developing world about US President Donald
Trump’s vision for US trade relations should he win a second term. MC

Thiru Balasubramaniam
Geneva Representative
Knowledge Ecology International
41 22 791 6727
thiru at keionline.org

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