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SAFACT responds to calls for internet piracy legislation

The recent media coverage of proposed UK legislation to combat internet-based piracy has sparked a long overdue debate on the possible need for similar legislation in South Africa.

The debate coincides with the emergence of an internet based piracy problem for the film and interactive games industries in South Africa.

The increased availability of pirated content is an unfortunate consequence of increasing internet connectivity and access of households and individuals facilitated by ongoing decreases in the cost of bandwidth.

Southern African Federation Against Copyright Theft (SAFACT) CEO James Lennox welcomes the increasing levels of connectivity and insists that the film and interactive games industries are committed to the legal exploitation of the opportunities created by the internet. Indeed many of the digital innovations behind the increased popularity of the web were in fact developed by the film and game industries themselves.

It is critical, however, to digital innovation and access to copyrighted content, that there is a level playing field and that criminals abusing the web do not gain the upper hand. If they do, they will inhibit the potential of the internet and creative industries to grow and thrive.

Lennox added that the concern of the owners of copyrighted works was the increase in downloading of illegal content by home users and through the abuse of corporate and university connectivity by employees and students.

While SAFACT's internet enforcement efforts are in their infancy, the route chosen to address the problem of internet-based piracy is through co-operation with web-based auction and sales sites and working with ISP's, individually and collectively. To date this approach has proven to be effective in the limited number of actions undertaken by the organization.

The same can be said of the interactions with corporates when instances of illegal downloading, storage and distribution of copyrighted works on their networks have been identified.

The imposition of additional legislative requirements on ISP's would, in SAFACT's view, be counterproductive at this point in time given the high levels of co-operation that exists and could upset the delicate balance of ensuring intellectual property rights are respected with the need to innovate and respect commercial and personal privacy.

SAFACT is of the opinion, however, that the legislative environment in which such co-operation is taking place needs to be updated and brought in line with the developments in technology and to redress the advantages given to those deliberately infringing intellectual property rights.

Areas of concern to SAFACT include

• Delays in ratifying important world intellectual property organisation treaties relating to the internet. South Africa has signed many of the treaties but to date has failed to ratify and implement
• Slow progress in updating South African copyright legislation in line with the dramatic developments in digital delivery and content
• Excessive levels of procedural bureaucracy impeding effectiveness of the police in pursuing internet based, and other, piracy operations
• Delays in the South African government recognising the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) as an “Industry Recognised Body” in terms of the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act
• Lack of expertise in law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to effectively prosecute those involved in internet based piracy.

SAFACT is also convinced of the need for increased co-operation between the State and industry in creating awareness among South Africans of the importance and value of intellectual property, and the creative industries, to the country and why it is vital that the ownership of such property is respected.

SAFACT recognises the importance of not stifling innovation and lawful exploitation of opportunities presented by the digital age but insists that such “progress” cannot be at the expense of the rightful owners of creative works. To this end, the organisation will work towards establishing even closer relationships with other copyright industries and ISP's with a view to implementing appropriate graduated response mechanisms to the problem of internet based piracy.


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