Tag Archive | legislation

Copyright Bill goes back to Parliament

….posted on July 13 2020….

Hung by its own petard: Copyright Bill 

Threatened not so much by the US administration, as Cabinet advisers would like us to believe, but more probably actioned more as per the presidency statement because of incompatibility with international agreements,  President Cyril Ramaphosa has made his long outstanding move with regard to the Copyright Amendment Bill, was sitting with him for over a year for assent.

Correctly, we believe, he has returned the Bill to Parliament in the light of the Bill’s constitutional and legal deficiencies, particularly in respect of non-compliance with the international “3-step test” of the Berne Convention and WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights

Long time coming

This delays further the implementation South Africa’s much-needed revised copyright legislation which has been stuck in the same groove with regard to royalties since before the digital age.  But then the Presidency also sat on their hands for 13 months before deciding on the matter, a decision which for most in business and industry should have been a complete no brainer.

Sad it will be for academics and educationalists who will remain with standard limitations on published works and sad also we understand for local performers and artists but, in the case of the latter grouping, this we admit is outside of our scope and brief.

Most of the delays so far have emanated from an overwhelming and misguided socialist belief that the Bill, as it stood according to the tenets of the governing party and particularly the beliefs of the previous Trade and Industry Minister, Rob Davies, that the Bill should introduce an emphasis on the “protection” of local artists and performers, a matter which seemed well worth to them a disregard for international copyright norms.

As the Bill is to be returned to Parliament, the delays will obviously be compounded.

Where we were

The Copyright Amendment Bill and the Performer’s Protection Bill as tandem Bills have both considered at the same time by Parliament’s Trade and Industry Portfolio Committee, both dealing with the same broad subject but both by their names dealing with separate issues.  By far the major issue was the matter of international copyright agreements and hence it was the Copyright Amendment Bill that came into the public eye because of international trading issues.

The view was originally espoused by Joanna Fubbs, stalwart and ANC chairperson for many years of the Portfolio Trade Committee on Trade and Industry that local performers and educational bodies were injured by the extensive international controls on copyright matters.  She personally took on the job of drafting the Bill with an emphasis on this subject, calling for help with various committees of experts but at the same time, as was called for, drafting a Bill which contained the tenets of a new approach to copyright matters.

Disadvantaged

She was undoubtedly driven by her beliefs that that the SA music and publishing industry was largely ignored, and she referred regularly to “well known SA artists and performers who had died penniless”. The position was even reached a point where a submission on the Bill was made in song by one grouping to MPs, an extraordinary moment,

Although it was generally acknowledged that local bodies in South Africa in the past were not famous for adherence to internationally accepted copyright norms ,particularly following sanctions by the Free World in years previous, it was agreed that a tightening up of this process had to happen and that copyright collection agencies, although not much liked by small business, were a part of the generally accepted process of royalty governance.

It was agreed by both government and business that something had to be done urgently about the fact that the existing Copyright Act had not been updated since 1976

Started by DTIC

The first draft on the subject from the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC) was rejected outright by eminent legal opinion, including that of the well-known Stellenbosch University, Anton Mostert School of Copyright Law.

This original draft, in the opinion of many legal experts, introduced “crude wording on the de-colonialisation’ of issues on royalties”, views which were only slightly watered down in subsequent years of endless and boring re-written versions whilst the Bill progressed under the two sub-committees formed by Joanna Fubbs.

Probably to stay in new Bill

The process resulted in a locally invented “hybrid” compromise wording regarding royalty usage, drawn up from the international norms of ‘fair use’ and ‘fair dealing’ principles of copyright application. The parliamentary authors felt they had achieved a result that would result in better protection of local author’s and performer’s copyright and a fair slice of royalties.

The point was, however, that the World Intellectual Property Organisation already provided latitudes with regard to the publishing industry in this regard but Fubbs persisted with her draft, fired by belief that South African educators were being denied educational opportunities by an over-zealous and, in her opinion, a somewhat pernicious publishing industry.

Rumpus followed

Book publishers then complained to the US Intellectual Property Association, which escalated by circumstance into a threat to South Africa in respect of  GPS benefits under AGOA.  Such produced a major moment of unhappiness in Trump/SA relationships.  One sensed that for some thirteen months whilst the Bill sat for assent, President Ramaphosa did not know which way to jump, although perhaps Covid 19 pre-occupation must have played a part in the extraordinary delays.

With President Ramaphosa now returning the Bill to Parliament, it is important to understand why the Bill is returned and what this implies. The process now could be lengthy and somewhat torturous.

Provincial and local input

The Cabinet statement merely states, aside for concern for visually impaired persons, that both the Copyright Amendment Bill and the Performers Protection Bill had been incorrectly tagged as Section 75 Bills in terms of the constitutionally prescribed process for parliamentary legislation. However, the President is of the view that the Bills concerned are in fact Section 76 Bills, given that they affect cultural matters.  To business, this remains a blind alley.

Section 75 Bills, which categorized the previous Bill, require just the mere acknowledgement of the National Councils of Provinces, but Bills tagged as Section 76 require a mandate from all nine provinces, and in some case cases provincial public hearings in each of the nine.  By returning the Bill on the basis of not being tagged correctly, this possibly means that as well as the Copyright Amendment Bill being altered and re-worded, the result will have to be considered by all provincial legislatures as well.

Rough guess

We expect that there will be a continued attempt to champion legislatively  “local user rights” in a compromised form, something that is mostly foreign to all international copyright statutes and agreements. At the same time, we do not expect any Copyright Amendment Bill to be passed any time in 2020 and if by July 2020, this will be going some.

Nevertheless, what we can expect is a Bill more along lines that the World Copyright Organisation would expect, the book publishing industry will want, and the US music and film publishing is used to seeing on the world stage. It is assumed that Minister Ebrahim Patel will gazette a new draft for public consideration, DTIC having learnt much in the four years of process.

 

Posted in Cabinet,Presidential, Home Page Slider, Justice, constitutional, Trade & Industry0 Comments

Parliament goes virtual for lockdown


….20 May 2020…

SA first with virtual e-debate

….At the same time as the venerable British Parliament was tackling what seemed to them a totally invasive idea of a virtual e-Parliament, South Africa was simultaneously tackling the same subject as COVID 19 arrived at the shores of Africa.  Immediately, the issue of the consideration of lockdown conditions arose in SA and the question of how Parliament could work with everybody boarded.

Whilst British parliamentarians dithered on the subject and due to the fact that the UK kept social distancing going for a much longer time before their lockdown came into force, South Africa’s virtual website portal went up in an incredibly short time and was first in the world by a few days.

Maak ‘n plan

In comparison, the British virtual system. which is also now also working, only allows for debate in the House of Commons whilst South Africa, in terms of its Constitution, follows proceedings in both the National Assembly and the NCOP and also at committee level as well, with the current joint meetings providing provincial coverage.

The design of the entrance website is pretty similar to the UK portal, the principle being the same but with a British budget, the UK presentation is a good deal slicker.  All the same, the Daily Telegraph complained after the UK launch that all that the voice links in the meetings sounded like Darth Vadar and it was confusing to know who was speaking.

Many players

The beginner’s look of the SA virtual meetings is understandable in the situation.   One can see in SA technicians are having a daily struggle with people using Skype and Zoom connections for the first time, some of whom have little knowledge of the difference between an app and a hard drive.

Most are trying, knowing it all has to happen and it would be best to learn quickly but a certain number of senior politicians still demand studio facilities and a camera.   We shall no doubt look back in years to come and laugh at these early attempts to live a virtual reality life.

48 hours allowed

In South Africa, where the decision to suspend the SA Parliament was a “precautionary measure” in the light of a forthcoming Cabinet decision on how to deal with the pandemic, Parliament’s presiding officers in the form of chief whips and political parties all agreed beforehand on the 17 March that the remaining two days of parliamentary business would be devoted to urgent legislation only.

As a result of this decision, Budget Papers in the form of the Division of Revenue Bill were hustled to the National Assembly for adoption in order that money could flow to the provinces and local government.   A Cabinet meeting followed and the Speaker of the House, who acts for the President in Parliament, was summonsed for a meeting soon after.

Hard facts

The role of Parliament is indispensable for the country to run.   The Constitution demands that Parliament scrutinise and oversee all Executive actions, processes Bills in the  form of legislation, to provide a forum for public consideration of issues and to facilitate public involvement in its legislative and other processes. Such is inviolate, whatever the conditions facing the country.

Realizing that the only way was virtual meetings to consider matters,  Speaker Thandi Modise issued a statement that Parliament would have to “intensify its technological capabilities for a transition to an “e-Parliament”.   She concluded that as a result, a decision had been taken that “Parliament will be able to resume taking advantage of virtual media technology”.

 Into action

The leave period, or recess, for MPs was duly cancelled and parliamentary staff were assigned permits to stay at work.  They used this time for urgent meetings -to assess how Parliament could best resume its proper function under lockdown regulations and deal with the lacuna (i.e. a situation where there is no applicable law to deal with the matter).

It was agreed by the Speaker that priority had to be given in Parliament to virtual meetings that required oversight on COVID-19 matters, bearing in mind the limited number of meetings that could be held at any one time.  It was also agreed that any virtual meetings would be primarily joint meetings based on the government cluster system, i.e. meetings comprising the various representatives from a number of differing committees affected by one subject.

 Order, order

Chief whips were then tasked to adapt parliamentary rules to meet the new conditions. All this had to be based on the procedures, precedents, practices and conventions, which have been developed over the years, known as parliamentary rules.  This was in respect of not only how NA and NCOP virtual plenary meetings were to be run but how debate was to be conducted committee.

Speaker Thandi Modise then confirmed to all political parties that in the planned virtual meetings, members of parliament would have the same powers, privileges and immunity as they have ordinarily in parliamentary proceedings.  Quorum requirements were to be exactly the same she said, and MPs would be entitled to cast their votes either electronically or by voice.

Public participation and access to virtual proceedings had to be made possible, said Modise, “in a manner that is consistent with a participatory and representative democracy, virtual meetings to be live-streamed wherever possible”.

Global comparisons

Despite time limitations Parliament was indeed able to try and benchmark against some other legislatures who were operating as legislatures whilst their countries were fighting against COVID-19. To the surprise of all, little was found.

The prime constitutional constraint in South Africa’s case was that any virtual meetings had to involve both the sittings of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces and these had to be seen to be happening if the public wished to observe proceedings, a factor necessary according to the Bill of Rights.   This was overcome by making most meetings “joint” committee meetings of parallel committees from both Houses.

One and only

In the UK, which has no constitution, a parliamentary virtual meeting concept had been designed and planning was six months into happening.  From a standing start, SA Parliament achieved their deadline in about a fortnight.  Australia and New Zealand are still only thinking of going about it and the USA is still fighting about lockdown itself.

Without fanfare, the parliamentary process under the extraordinary conditions began internally in the Cape Town precinct after a very short training period on 20th April, with access being made to the existing  public parliamentary website on the link www.parliament.gov.za/parliament-tv.

 Time will tell

The whole thing seems to work quite well but obviously glitches occur regularly whilst MPs struggle from time to time to find the mute button and some appear if they have just got out of bed.  Already, however, after an initial learning curve, things are changing and before long it will be the way things happen.

At each meeting, provision is made for the parliamentary secretary to log in those MPs present at a virtual meeting, name them, see them, accept apologies and at point count voting if required from those logged in through the  electronic response system.   Minutes are established later through the audio track recorded in the same manner as before. This is quite some procedure to witness in some of the hallowed chambers where the Speaker once wore a wig.

An MP’s presence in any virtual meeting is established through a secure link sent to their email address which also enables counting to be established for the purposes of establishing a quorum, taking decisions on issues or voting on a matter. Links are established on Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter and Instagram, the photography on Facebook on parliamentary issues being quite stunning.

 7 out of 10

In general, the new parliamentary virtual world established is considered by most quite for such a rush and the process will no doubt tide the country through this terrible period in its history.  This aside from any opinion on how well MPs handle their own inputs and deal with difficult question of switching between one another to pose and answer questions.  What you see is what you get.  The result is not always pretty but it is legal.

One advantage is that with so much happening with lights flashing and buttons to worry about, there is little time for any MP to have a quiet slumber.

Posted in Agriculture, cabinet, Communications, Defence, Earlier Stories, Energy, Fuel,oil,renewables, Home Page Slider, Justice, constitutional, Police, Public utilities, public works, Security,police,defence, Trade & Industry, Transport0 Comments


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