“As the law of copyright stands, it is currently wholly inadequate to deal with the realities of the digital age.”
This is according to a guide to the copyright issues pertaining to digital music that exist in South Africa, written by Michalsons attorneys.
Michalsons makes the statement after explaining that while South African law doesn’t criminalise all forms of copyright infringement, it also makes it illegal to convert sound recordings from one format to another.
This means that “format shifting” such as ripping CDs with iTunes to listen to them on your iPod is technically copyright infringement.
Copyright infringement, colloquially expressed more simply as “piracy,” may result in penalties as little as paying the copyright holder the value of the pirated content, or as hefty as time in jail.
Calls for reform
According to Michalsons, there are calls for a new Copyright Act to be drafted to bring the law up to date with the environment in which it is meant to operate.
They say that government seems to have accepted this, but add that there is no clear indication that a new bill will be drafted in the foreseeable future.
Copyright holders and content creators can help
Despite the Act’s shortcomings, Michalsons says that producers of digital music can do a lot to improve the current situation.
According to Michalsons the power ultimately rests with copyright holders as they dictate what license terms are for their content.
Copyright holders can rewrite or otherwise improve existing licenses to allow consumers to format shift their media for personal use.
Michalsons mentioned the work by organisations such as the Creative Commons, who they say are pushing this sort of thinking by providing a series of licenses copyright holders may use.
According to Michalsons these licenses have varying degrees of openness, ranging from a licence that makes the work available for free for people to distribute and modify it provided that they give credit to the original creator, to more traditional licences that have many restrictions.
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