Submissions to parliamentary hearings

Following up on my previous post, I can report that today (7 March 2023) I participated virtually in a hearing of the Standing Committee on Finance, Economic Opportunities, and Tourism, of the Parliament of the Western Cape Province, Cape Town, held in Cape Town and virtually. Here is the text of my remarks. It is followed by an earlier written submission.

Oral submission on the Copyright Amendment Bill 2022

Presented at a hearing of the Standing Committee on Finance, Economic Opportunities, and Tourism, of the Parliament of the Western Cape Province, Cape Town, 7 March 2023

Prof Peter Johan Lor

Research Associate

Department of Information Science

University of Pretoria

Thank you, chair, for this opportunity.

I speak in my capacity as a researcher, author, and user of scholarly and academic literature. I do not represent the Department of Information Science, where, as a retired professor, I hold the honorary position of a “research associate.” But I do believe that I represent an important constituency of scholarly creators and users. In that regard, I want to emphasize that researchers are also users of information. No research is carried out in a vacuum. We build on the work of our colleagues.

In my earlier written submission, I emphasized two issues that concern me.

First issue: the delay in ratifying the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled (full name), adopted in June 2013, almost ten years ago. This treaty was laboriously crafted, the work beginning while I was the Secretary General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). IFLA partnered with the World Blind Union and other interested parties, to advocate for it.  I am mortified that, although it has already been ratified by 117 states, to date my own country, South Africa, has failed to do so because of the interminable delays in passing the copyright amendment legislation. This is a shocking disregard of the human rights of a substantial minority of our citizens. It must not be allowed to continue. I fully support the plea of Christo der Klerk of Blind SA, and I share his concern about the inclusion of Technical Protection Measures (TPMs).

Second issue: The critical importance of access to information and knowledge for our country’s future. Access to information and knowledge is a precondition for quality education, internationally competitive research, R&D, and innovation. The barriers to access that are enshrined in our outdated legislation and that certain well-meaning parties seek to retain if not augment, prevent us from being internationally competitive. We are, as it were, fighting with one hand behind our back.

I would like to flesh out more concretely this rather abstract statement by referring to my own experience as a scholarly author, a so-called “creator of content” for the scholarly publishing industry. During a career of nearly fifty years, I have had approximately 200 articles published. The majority of these were published in “international” journals accredited by the SA Department of Higher Education.

I have not earned any money from all this work. From some of the smaller US publishers I have occasionally received small amounts in dollars. e.g. 30 dollars for serving as an issue editor for a journal. These amounts come as cheques in US dollars, that are quite useless here, so I’ve cancelled them and sent them back, suggesting they donate the money to a worthy cause.

My work has quite often been prescribed or recommended by universities and I’m aware that those universities’ libraries have had to pay copyright fees to reproduction rights organizations such as the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) in the USA and DALRO in South Africa. I have never received a cent from any of these organizations, nor any communication. I presume that the money goes to copyright holders, that is, publishers. That, by the way, constitutes an outflow of funds from South Africa to the USA and Western Europe. Is this a good use of our currency reserves?

I should mention that I serve on the editorial boards of half a dozen domestic and international journals. I do a lot of reviewing. For this time-consuming but essential task, without which no peer reviewed journal can exist, we reviewers are not paid a cent

For a 900-page book, which took me ten years to write, which was published in Germany in 1999 by an international publisher in a print run of 220 copies – not unusual for specialized monographs – I have so far received 582 Euros in royalties, with not much more to come. From a business point of view, I am a dismal failure.

But that is not why I write!  The currency of scholarly authors is not money, but recognition, especially recognition in the form of citations. It does not worry me that I’m not making any money out of my writings. My concern, as a scholarly author, is that my work should be read, appreciated, and used widely, especially in South Africa. Publishers’ organizations pride themselves on protecting me from “piracy”. I grant that such protection may well be important to writers of fiction, popular non-fiction, and undergraduate textbooks, but as a scholarly author I can’t care two hoots if my work is accessed in unorthodox ways. The more people that have access to my work the better. And all the better, if they gain access ethically and legally without having to pay crippling fees. By locking up my content, the publishers are frustrating my calling as a scholarly author.

I conclude. The exceptions and limitations to copyright (the fair use provisions) that are enshrined in the bill are essential for our students, our educators and researchers, to access the scholarly literature they need. The fair use provisions in the Bill are no more liberal than the legislation that already exists in the wealthy countries of the North. This does not stop them from generating massive amounts of “contents” and from having some obscenely profitable publishing houses. Why can we not have those fair use provisions in South Africa?

I support the Bill.

Thank you. 

Written submission on the Copyright Amendment Bill 2022

Submitted February 2023

I write in response to the call for public comments on the Copyright Amendment Bill.

I am a retired librarian and educator, and continue to work as a researcher and author. I have extensive experience in relation to intellectual property rights. My career in South African libraries culminated in my appointment as South Africa’s first National Librarian and Chief Executive of the National Library of South Africa in 2000. Subsequently I served as the Secretary General of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) based in The Hague, the Netherlands, which has a world-wide membership and is the leading international voice of libraries. I have also taught library and information studies as a professor at UNISA, the University of Pretoria, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA. 

As the author of a major internationally published textbook on international and comparative librarianship, and of approximately 200 scholarly publications, I have first-hand experience of the barriers to knowledge that impede such scholarly research and writing world-wide, and especially in South Africa

There are several matters of great concern. Here I can outline only two of my concerns.

1. In respect of access to information for the blind and the partially sighted, I find it a disgrace and a tragedy that delaying tactics are still preventing the signing of the Bill, and hence, South Africa’s ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty. I know from serving as the Secretary General of IFLA at that time, that it took many years of international advocacy (in which we participated) to laboriously craft the Treaty. By December 2022, 117 states had ratified it. These include the USA, all the members of the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Japan, and all our BRICS partners (Brazil, the Peoples Republic of China, Brazil, and the Russian Federation). These countries have decided that the human rights of their visually disadvantaged people outweigh any putative economic considerations. However, our South African blind and partially sighted have to wait even longer while, due to its questionable retagging as a Section 76 Bill, our Copyright Amendment Bill makes its way laboriously through the National Council of Provinces.

2. It is disheartening that in this day and age it is still necessary to emphasize in our country a point that is blindingly obvious to all, including the leaders of the above-mentioned governments: the obvious point that access to information and knowledge is critically important for our country’s future: for scholars, students, researchers, managers, leaders. Access to information is key to economic development in all sectors, and essential for the development of a literate and well-informed population. Barriers enshrined in current legislation impede this.

If I may cite personal experience:  I would not have been able to write my book or many of my scholarly articles that have been published in internationally recognized scholarly journals, if I had not received assistance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the USA. How many up-and-coming young South African academics have such access? Most of them have to rely on what can be provided for them by their South African university libraries. Our libraries must be empowered to serve our people with the copyright provisions that apply to libraries in the wealthy countries of the Global North, and increasingly of the Global South. Figuratively speaking, we currently have to compete internationally with one hand tied behind our back.

Opposition to the exceptions and limitations to copyright by parties arguing for the interests of foreign copyright holders is hypocritical in the extreme. All we want in the Bill is the fair use provisions that are already in place in the wealthy Western countries. They became wealthy at least in part because they had untrammelled access to information and knowledge when their economies were developing, but now they place obstacles in the development path of countries of the Global South.

These obstacles are immoral and must fall.

Respectfully submitted

Peter Lor, Research Associate, Department of Information Science, University of Pretoria


About Peter Lor

Peter Johan Lor is a Netherlands-born South African librarian and academic. In retirement he continues to pursue scholarly interests as a research fellow in the Department of Information Science at the University of Pretoria, South Africa.
This entry was posted in Copyright, Information justice, South Africa, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Submissions to parliamentary hearings

  1. Townley Charles says:

    Hi Peter:

    Now I know you are an effective advocate who can present compelling testimony! I hope they pay attention.

    Charles T. Townley 1531 Pebble Beach Road Las Cruces, NM 88011 575-571-7020

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