THE FIRST South Africa got wind of the draft license regulations mooted by the SABC was in the form of a broad content debate. One involving Netflix and to some degree Youtube. The country is no exception with Canada recently passing laws to compel streaming firms to pay for local content.
Then SABC Head of TV Licences Sylvia Tladi, stepped into the frey with a narrow call for stricter individual regulation to ‘improve compliance in terms of TV Licence fees” and apparently also plans to extend licensing to ‘include tablets and cellphones’. Effectively a plan to tax the Internet instead of asserting local content requirements for large Pay-per-View channels
The Kingdom of Lesotho proposed a similar scheme last month which could see individual users requiring licenses to use social media, at the same time that mobile operator Vodacom was being fingered over its own license conditions.
A similar scheme under the former Film & Publications Board would have resulted in a million censors tackling the proverbial ‘infinite supply’ of content ostensibly to earn billions of rubles in foreign exchange. A fools errand driving our Peso, sorry Rand economy, and one which would merely create a bureaucratic logjam –a national ‘PayWall’, aimed at the purse of anyone producing online content.
The problem with being seduced by this ‘Tax the Internet’, approach ( no millions of lives will not be saved during the Covid Crisis by rolling out new license schemes) aside from the fact it represents a blunt instrument –a regressive tax on a previously untaxed environment — is that it seeks to tax free content and paid content alike.
Free content provided for gratis, such as that available from the same publication you are reading right now, need I mention my Youtube Channel?
In effect, SABC would be charging its audience (read tablet and cellphone users) for access to Medialternatives copyrighted content, alongside the broader Internet, and without any forethought as to the legal consequences of such a scheme — little more than an unfair and irregular means to hijack free content and resell the result. The Mail & Guardian tried something similar back in 2007 before its news aggregation business was closed down.
Publishers such as Medialternatives and many other local and global free sites, (for example popular site MyBroadband), will not earn a cent or gain any revenue from the proposed SABC license scheme.
The old SABC TV license, like the previous Radio license, has traditionally been used to offset costs at the public broadcaster, but I fear, asking online providers of content to bail out the ageing broadcaster and erstwhile content provider, is taking things a step too far, especially when one considers the fruitless and wasteful expenditure under former head Hlaudi Motsoeneng
Robbing Peter to pay Paul , really calls into question the entire rationale behind the license amendment bill and its motivation, supposedly to rectify the adverse effect on local talent who often find themselves competing with foreign media houses. Spare a thought to those of us who find it extremely difficult to enforce copyright even at the SABC, and not least the terms of permissive licenses, within the current legal environment.
I therefore propose something similar to the highly successful Internet Black Out orchestrated by the late Aaron Schwartz, also known as the day the Internet Stood Still. In which online content providers blacked out their content to protest censorship. Until then, simply put up a banner alerting users to the proposed SABC Tax on Free Content.
UPDATE: A document entitled Suggested Approach to Drafting Digital Services Tax Legislation has emerged. Let’s hope we don’t end up with a ‘belt-and-braces’ approach to the issue.