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4 AUGUST 2017


The gift of empowering blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disable persons in South Africa


By Mr Jace Nair


The gift of empowering blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disable persons in South Africa



Good morning Chairperson and members of the Portfolio Committee, Members of Parliament, Government Officials and other representatives present. This submission is made to endorse the written submission made on 30 June 2017 focusing particularly on Section 19 D, exceptions and limitations for blind, visually impaired and other persons with print disability. The presentation concentrates on the impact of not having exceptions and limitations, the challenges and positive outcomes for our communities by South Africa ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty and the enactment of the Copyright Bill.


Right To Read Coalition

The Right To Read Coalition was set up in 2009 by the SA National Council for the Blind with representation from the blindness sector, disability sector, libraries, universities, academics and IP experts. Several advocacy workshops, submissions to the Copyright Commission, IP Policy and campaigns at WIPO were held.


This submission is made by:-

SA National Council for the Blind   

A National DPO established in 1929 with over 100 member organisations

Blind SA

A National DPO established in 1946 with 30 member organisations

SA Disability Alliance

An alliance of 19 National DPOs, Service Providers, Parents Organisations and Professional Associations

African Union of the Blind

Established under resolution of the OAU and represented in 54 African countries.

World Blind Union

An International Union of 192 countries.

The Book Famine

The world’s population and the South African citizens had access to printed reading materials for centuries. Access to books provided an opportunity for knowledge and information especially literacy, education and skills thereby ensuring employment and the benefits of economic, social, cultural and civic life.

Blind, visually impaired and persons with print disability on the other-hand were faced with the opposite, the “Book Famine” or the”Book Apartheid”.

The WBU estimates that less than 5% of published works is available in the developed world and this figure is approximately 1% in developing countries. In South Africa the situation is even bleaker with approximately 0.5% of published works available in an accessible format. The majority of these are in English with limited copies in Afrikaans and even fewer in the African languages. Many of these books published in an accessible format are reproduced by NGOs like Blind SA, Pioneer Printers and SA Library for the Blind.


The challenges these publishing houses experience include:-

Delays in obtaining licence to convert the books into an accessible format

Books needing to be data typed and proofread

Additional time and high costs for production

Utilisation of developmental funds for production instead of community development and empowerment of individuals


Many publishers have been reluctant to provide books in electronic format to producers of material in accessible formats. When publishers do not provide producers of accessible formats with electronic copies of books, data typists at such production houses have to capture the text from the published hardcopy, a long and tedious process which is prone to errors. After conversion the converted document is proofread twice by proofreading teams of two people. To convert an average novel in this manner could thus take about 26 days. A team of 5 people would be required for this process. To produce a master copy using this process would cost around R28 000.00 and if the producers received an accessible electronic file the cost could be reduced to R12 000.00 for the same book.



Statistics of persons who are blind and visually impaired

According to STATS SA (2011) approximately 11 % of South Africans have visual impairment. The prevalence of sight disability in SA is the highest of all disabilities – 32% with 80% residing in rural areas and 97% are unemployed.

Over 288 million people around the world are Blind and visually impaired.


Impact on the community

The Copyright Act of 1979 lacked adequate provisions of exceptions and limitation to provide access for blind, visually impaired and other persons with print disability and it can be attributed to:-

Very little access to published works in an accessible format

Low levels of literacy and access to quality education

High levels of unemployment and poverty

Blind readers’ access to local, national and international libraries of books in accessible formats is severely restricted due to importation and exportation limitations.

There are various international online library services to which blind people can subscribe to gain access to hundreds of thousands of accessible books in electronic formats. Such libraries include Bookshare and the National Library Service in the USA and Vision Australia and others.

Blind persons from countries with restrictive copyright legislation or which have not ratified the Marrakesh Treaty, either do not have access to these libraries or have access to only a restricted portion of the material in those libraries.


Miracle of Marrakesh

The Africa Group, particularly the South African Government played a significant role in advancing the access of published works in an accessible format for blind, visually and otherwise print disable persons during the negotiations at WIPO since 2009 until the adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty on 27 June 2013 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The Treaty came into force on 30 September 2016. Currently there are 30 countries that have ratified and there are 6 countries in Africa.


The spirit of Marrakesh is captured by:-

The inclusion of blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disable persons as beneficiary and users identified as an important key stakeholder

The separation of exceptions and limitations for the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disable persons

The acknowledgement and cooperation of publishers and rights holders to facilitate the access of published works in an accessible format

Adoption of the Marrakesh Treaty


Provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty

The important provisions of the Marrakesh Treaty includes:-

Defining the beneficiary group to include blind, visually impaired and print disable persons

Accessible formats to mean braille, audio, large print, daisy and e-copy formats that can be used by the beneficiaries

The published works being available in an accessible format at the same time as the original printed works

Publishers and right holders encouraged to produce their published works in an accessible format for use by beneficiaries

Copyright exceptions and limitations available to non profit organisations that reproduce these published works in an accessible format for beneficiaries

The circumvention of Technical Protective Measures to allow for accessibility of the published works to beneficiaries

The cross border exchange-importation and exportation of published works which is in an accessible format



Realisation of the NDP

The ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty and enactment of the Copyright Bill will lead to the accelerated realisation of nine of the NDP outcomes and create a better life for all South Africans including blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disable persons.

NDP Outcome 1: Improved quality of basic education

NDP Outcome 4: Decent employment through inclusive economic growth

NDP Outcome 5: A skilled and capable workforce to support an inclusive growth path

NDP Outcome 6: An efficient, competitive and responsive economic infrastructure network

NDP Outcome 7: Vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities with food security for all

NDP Outcome 8: Sustainable human settlement and improved quality of household life

NDP Outcome 11: Create a better South Africa and contribute to a better and safer Africa and the World

NDP Outcome 13: Social Protection

NDP Outcome 14: Nation building and social cohesion


What South Africa must do

One of the international instruments that provided the enabling environment for the Marrakesh Treaty was the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disability (CRPD) in 2006. South Africa also played a leading role with this treaty and ratified it in 2007 with the optional protocol. Article 4: General obligations; Article 30: Participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport; Article 32: International cooperation; Article 33: National implementation and monitoring, specifically provided access to published works in an accessible format and makes it imperative for State Parties, in our case, the South African Government to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty and domesticate it by enacting the Copyright Bill, which is on the Parliamentary calendar.

In addition, all legislation will need to be harmonised, implementation of programme of action, setting up of Authorised Entities, preparing the systems, content development, production guidelines and an opportunity of eliminating the book famine.

Chairperson, we are aware that there may be certain sections of the Copyright Bill which there are contestation by certain stakeholders. Our advocacy from the perspective of blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disable persons is not to delay the passage of the Bill and if it is absolutely necessary then to delink the recommendation by The Department of Trade and Industries of only ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty once the Bill is enacted. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability was ratified by South Africa in 2007 and the White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disability was approved by Parliament in December 2015.




After many years of negotiations the exceptions and limitations for our sector is now before you in the Copyright Bill and the Marrakesh Treaty. We therefore urge you as custodians of our legislature to enact the Copyright Bill and ratify the Marrakesh Treaty without delay.

Our appreciation is acknowledged to all the stakeholders responsible for work undertaken.

Remember the KEY IS IN YOUR HANDS – the gift of empowering blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disable persons in South Africa.



Thanking you!


Jace Nair

CEO: Blind SA

Chairperson: SANCB Copyright and Marrakesh Committee

Chairperson: Africa Marrakesh Treaty Committee


Photo’s and pictures from Google, Pioneer Printers, Blind SA and WIPO


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