Send the ‘Groot Boetie’ FPB amendment & copyright bill back to legislators


ONE month ago, the controversial FPB amendment bill was passed by South Africa’s Parliament. It came as a major blow to online content providers battling prior restraint and other apartheid-era laws from a previous period of newsroom censorship, and will ostensibly turn ISPs into cops, tasked with enforcing FPB content classification, and in some instances, even blocking sites.

If it isn’t nipples and journalists that interest the authorities, then it is Hollywood’s copyright regime and our own country’s fair use/fair dealing laws which seemingly protect creators of content.

A related piece of legislation, the copyright law amendment bill, as it stands contradicts public rights protections and seeks to impose institutional copyright on behalf of collecting agencies, even in areas where a permissive licensing system may already be in place. There is a well-funded lobby promoting copyright restrictions and classification, that also wants to remove fair use wording and any public domain permissions. Currently there are not enough checks and balances shoring up legal defenses against prior restraint while promoting freedom of speech, innovation and the reuse of content via permissive licensing.

The anti-piracy lobby group SAFACT has announced plans to block online sites.  Opening the door to politicians who may also want to block sites and target publishers with which they disagree. The vocal religious lobby routinely rails against what they perceive to be the “anything goes society” as do those from the ‘moral majority’ who view porn as the “work of the devil”.

Conservative and Far Left campaigns against porn, hate speech and other ‘social evils’, have invariably resulted in the loss of fundamental freedoms. Acting as a cover for those who seek to limit criticism and public opinion.

The threat of holding ISPS and publishers responsible for users comments was enough to shut down many discus comments sites when the FPB amendment was first announced, effectively destroying the evolution of online letters to the editor and further eroding what freedom remains on the Internet. The emergence of overly broad anti-hate speech legislation hasn’t helped matters either.

The controversy surrounding the X18 age restriction of local film The Wound, the first time a local film has received such a rating in recent memory, is another example of how the FPB will play itself out.

We’ve written about the many problems presented by the FPB and its draconian plans, chief of which is censorship of online content and the erosion of communications and press freedoms guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. Thus the information freedom subsumed under article 16 freedom of expression, and the right to not have the privacy of our communications infringed, under article 14 privacy rights. All drafted following a period in which apartheid censors had gone overboard in their quest to purify political discourse.

You can read some of these articles here:

Stop SA Government Internet Tax & Censorship Plan

Apartheid censor board mooted, targeting online content

South African Cybercrime Bill creates Trial by Hollywood

There is still time to stop the FPB amendment, (and canvass parliament on the Copyright Bill.)

“First, the president can refuse to sign it and send it back to the National Assembly on the point that he thinks it is unconstitutional, or constitutionally problematic. If that doesn’t happen, any MP can ask the Constitutional Court to review it on the point that the amendment is unconstitutional. Finally if it is passed into law, a private citizen or other body could potentially take up legal suit to get the now Act declared unconstitutional.”

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