South Africa has found itself in the crosshairs of major US copyright groups, which are not happy with the country’s stance towards critical copyright issues.
South Africa is already subject to a U.S. Government review to see if trade sanctions should be applied.
The review was launched following a referral from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA). This coalition of prominent rightsholder groups, which includes the MPA and RIAA, informed the USTR that South Africa’s current policies and actions are below international standards.
Among other things, the group is worried that the country’s newly proposed copyright law is far too flexible when it comes to fair use. This stance is echoed by other rightsholders but also heavily criticized by public interest groups and legal experts.
A few days ago the IIPA reiterated its critique in a new submission to the US Trade Representative (USTR). The USTR uses these submissions and other public comments to create its Special 301 Report, an annual list of countries that deserve extra attention due to various shortcomings that may hurt U.S. businesses.
The IIPA is one of the most loyal submitters, sharing its concerns for more than 20 consecutive years. Over these two decades, it has recommended that over 75 countries should be placed on the U.S. “Watch List”.
Until this year, South Africa was never mentioned, but that has clearly changed. In its 2020 recommendation, the IIPA classifies the country among the worst offenders, asking the USTR to put it on the Priority Watch List.
According to the IIPA, South Africa’s newly proposed Copyright Amendment Bill is fatally flawed. This includes the previously mentioned fair use issues as well as a wide range of other shortcomings which were detailed in several pages, too expansive to summarize.
In addition, the country’s response to the threat of online piracy is also said to be lacking. While more legal options have become available, many South Africans turn to piracy, the group notes.
According to the IIPA, increased Internet connection speeds are contributing to a piracy boom. This is in part facilitated by corporate and university networks.
“[O]nline piracy continues to grow in South Africa. Growth in bandwidth speeds, coupled with lax controls over corporate and university bandwidth abuse, drive this piracy,” the IIPA writes.
Throttling the bandwidth of an entire country isn’t a very popular solution. However, according to the IIPA, there are other options available. They include blocking and shutting down websites, which may require legislation to be updated.
Among the list of “priority actions” for the country is also a bandwidth-related suggestion. The rightsholders urge South Africa to ensure that the implementation of 4G and 5G networks doesn’t increase piracy.
“Monitor implementation of 4G and 5G networks to ensure it does not lead to a higher level of piracy, and improve education and increase enforcement commensurate to the increased threat,” the IIPA writes.
This is a rather unique suggestion. The IIPA’s full report lists over a dozen countries and spans 220 pages, but 4G and 5G are only mentioned in relation to South Africa.
The mention is linked to the recent decision of South Africa’s government to open the spectrum. This paves the way for the rollout of 4G and 5G networks, which can boost both legal and illegal consumption.
If piracy indeed gets a boost, the IIPA would like the government to step in to correct this through trade sanctions or other means.
All in all, the IIPA’s overview sums up a long list of shortcomings that it hopes the country will address. Needless to say, this sits in stark contrast to previous years, when they were never even mentioned.
The rightsholder groups hope that the USTR will agree with its concerns and place the country on its Priority Watch List, which is due to be released in the months to come.
The IIPA’s full recommendations for the USTR’s 2020 Special 301 Review are available here (pdf).