Resharing a meme on social media is actually illegal under current copyright laws.
Copyright legislation written in 1978 and later updated in 2002 could be updated again this year. The Copyright Amendment Bill is due to be adopted by the National Council of the Provinces on Wednesday.
Wikimedia ZA president Douglas Scott said the current law has contributed to the country falling behind on technology.
“Memes are not allowed under the Fair Dealing law. Also, the sharing of pictures of public monuments is most probably illegal, it’s just that it has not been tested in court yet. Wikipedia doesn’t accept photos of newly-built monuments because of the current act, only pictures of colonial-era monuments, such as the Rhodes statue, because its copyright licence has expired,” said Scott.
The issue of Fair Dealing versus Fair Use – current law versus proposed law – has caused a stir in the copyright industry.
Scott said under Fair Dealing, anything one does in regard of copyright issues is assumed to be wrong, not publicly acceptable and is difficult for the public to understand.
He said under Fair Use, anything one does in regard to copyright law is “deemed to be okay, but only if it does not impact negatively on the copyright holder’s ability to derive an income”.
“The current act criminalises a large section of the population. The proposed law is flexible and easier to understand for the public and is also good for the technology industry and development,” said Scott.
On Tuesday, Scott and other experts will be discussing the amendments.
There is some opposition to the amendments in the copyright industry.
Pearson South Africa managing director, Ebrahim Matthews, said while the intentions of the Copyright Amendment Bill are noble, it will have a hugely negative impact on the local educational publishing sector, including publishers and authors.
“The effect of the Copyright Amendment Bill will not only be to inhibit educational publishers from being able to operate effectively in South Africa, it will also mean that it will discourage the production of local educational content, forcing us to import educational content from abroad,” he said.
Matthews said according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers study commissioned by the industry, the proposed bill could possibly see a 33% decrease in sales, equivalent to R2.1billion on baseline sales, a decrease in the relative share of exports of local titles and a weighted decline in employment of 30%, or the equivalent of 1250 jobs.
However, Professor Sean Flynn, associate director of the Programme on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at the American University Washington College of Law, disputed this.
“This study is flawed in its methodology and does not reflect the outcomes of independent research or the experiences in any country that has adopted Fair Use.
“Our research based on a study of over 40 wealthy and middle-income countries concluded that adopting Fair Use rights led to increases in technology investment and in the production of scholarship, with no decrease in income from publishing,” said Flynn.