Copyright and digitisation in South Africa

Denise Nicholson
Denise Nicholson

By Siphokazi Mathe, postgraduate student at the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership

Rhodes University hosted its 3rd annual Library Research Week last week, in support of emerging African academics and researchers.

The aim of Research Week is to strengthen research support and partnerships between the Research Office, researchers, postgraduate students and the Library. The workshop presented by guest speaker, Denise Nicholson, was well attended and well received. Nicholson is the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of Witwatersrand, and among her many titles she is also an Intellectual and A2K Issues columnist.

Driven by the notion of access to information and the importance of learning, Nicholson pursued a career as a qualified copyright librarian – a career that engages and challenges the fair and just production of knowledge in South Africa. As the only qualified copyright librarian in South Africa, Nicholson formed and was part of the task team that challenged both green paper drafts of The Copyright Amendment Bill purporting that the Bill does not address the Intellectual Property needs of South Africa today. 

During the Research Week workshop centered on copyright, Nicholson imparted her expertise of copyright laws in South Africa, and the potential implications of the impending Copyright Amendment Bill. Placing emphasis on the intricacies of the age of digitisation, Nicholson identified gaps in the current Copyright legislation in South Africa stating that the legislation fails to address notions of inclusivity as it relates to the abilities of different bodies, and falls short of keeping up with the needs of the digital age as the legislation has not been updated in 40 years.

The workshop drew an audience of scholars, researchers, postgraduate students and academic staff from Walter Sisulu University and various Rhodes University departments. Barnabas Muvhuti, a PhD student at the Rhodes University Fine Arts Department, expressed enthusiasm in attending the event stating that he “wants to understand copyright law as it pertains to art and art galleries; how to use and reference the work of other artists, as well as the legal rights of artists as it pertains to protecting their work and ideas”.

Shaan Foster, an Honours student in the Biochemistry Department of Rhodes University, expressed a desire to learn “the different perspectives from academic peers in the process of knowledge production”.

In closing, Nicholson and the workshop attendees engaged in robust and thought-provoking conversation about the development of copyright legislation in South Africa and the needs of knowledge producers in the country, concluding that the protection of intellectual property and the open access of knowledge and information is integral to the encouragement and facilitation of academic study in the country.