South Africa Law Would Put IP in Jeopardy | Citizens Against Government Waste

South Africa Law Would Put IP in Jeopardy

The WasteWatcher

It apparently takes a long time for legislation to be signed into law in South Africa.  Since December 5, 2018, President Cyril Ramaphosa has had before him for his approval the Copyright Amendment Bill, which would significantly reduce the protection of intellectual property (IP) like the copyright of songs, books, and movies. 

Renewed attention to this legislation came on February 24, 2020, when South African artistsprotested outside the U.S. Embassy in South Africa to object to U.S. demands that President Ramaphosa not sign the copyright bill into law.  The U.S. objections were first raised in an April 18, 2019 letter to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), alleging that South Africa was failing to meet eligibility requirements for the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) because of the country’s weak copyright laws and enforcement capabilities, including the provisions of the Copyright Amendment Bill. 

On October 25, 2019, the USTR opened an investigation into South Africa’s GSP eligibility due to concerns over IP protection and enforcement concerns.  The GSP was established by the Trade Act of 1974 to promote economic development through reduction or elimination of import duties on goods imported from one of the 119 designated beneficiary countries and territories. 

One might wonder why the actions of the South African legislature should matter to Americans.  If the bill is signed by President Ramaphosa, the proposed changes would reduce the number of years a work could receive copyright protection, regardless of whether the work was produced in South Africa or another country.  The bill also would impose a “fair use” doctrine on most creative activities, further stripping IP rights from the creators of these works.  Because of the increase in fair use applicability, the incidence of IP theft and piracy could increase. 

The Copyright Amendment bill effectively reduces the term of copyright protection in South Africa in half from the life of the author plus 50 years, which is already below the gold standard of life of the author plus 70 years in the U.S. for copyright protection, as well as international norms, to only 25 years.  Because many expressive works enjoyed in South Africa emanate from the U.S., this bill would strip U.S. artists, composers, movie creators, and musicians from receiving full IP protection under U.S. law.  If the South Africa copyright bill is signed into law, other countries could be encouraged to take similar steps to undermine copyright protections.

In the U.S., intellectual property rights are protected in the Constitution.  However, other countries do not provide the same level of protection either in their founding documents or by statute.  The USTR should be applauded for reviewing the GSP for South Africa and continue to take steps to ensure that the country understands the need for strong protection of intellectual property rights.


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