South Africa: Educators demand end to copyright ‘apartheid’

published 27 February 2020 updated 28 February 2020

The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) has staged a protest urging the government to sign a Copyright Amendment Bill that will improve access to quality education materials.

SADTU, one of Education International’s affiliates in South Africa, says the Copyright Amendment Bill will overrule existing copyright regulations and grant access to education materials to every student. Alongside other activists, unionists, and artists, they staged a picket outside the US embassy in Pretoria on 26 February. They were protesting against a petition signed by large US entertainment companies that complained about South Africa’s pending copyright laws.

According to the union, the current global Intellectual Property regime is “more about the protection of individual publishing company rights instead of being about facilitating development and access for the poor”. The Copyright Amendment Bill allows for the adoption of flexibilities that would improve the access to copyrighted works for educational purposes.


While public expenditure on education in South Africa is higher than in other similar income countries, access to educational material for everybody is not the norm, according to SADTU. In order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 and the country’s own priorities around education, SADTU is asking the government to devise a “relevant legislative framework”. This framework would “promote access to educational material and archives for the benefit of learners, teachers, academia and society at large without any apartheid regime and multinational publishing companies-inspired restrictions such as the current copyright bill that came into law in the 1970s”.

At yesterday’s rally, Xolani Fakude, SADTU’s head of secretariat said: “SADTU joined a number of its social partners today [demanding] that the president of South Africa should sign the Copyright Amendment Bill and the Performers Protection Amendment Bill into law.”

He reiterated his union’s position which is that the bill will “protect authors and publishers while restraining the excesses of a few publishing companies that exploit markets with unwarranted prices”. Fakude highlighted how, in South Africa, the four largest publishing companies are making “excessive profits from the learning and teaching support material and have turned our education into a commodity”.

US threaten trade sanctions

According to several South African civil society organisations, the United States of America (USA) is exerting pressure on South Africa not to sign the Copyright Amendment Bill into law by threatening the revision of the preferential trade agreements and by proposing trade sanctions. However, the union is encouraging the government to put the benefit of the country and its National Development Plan first. “The USA has modelled itself as the cheerleader against a transformative Intellectual Property regime throughout the world in defence of the profits of its big multinational companies like the internet-based search engines and publishing companies,” an official SADTU statement reads. The same statement also seeks to dispel the myth around the Copyright Bill’s potential damage to the publishing market in the country.