Ripping MP3s is illegal in South Africa

Until changes proposed in the Copyright Amendment Bill are signed into law, it remains unlawful to convert sound recordings from one format to another, such as ripping CDs to MP3.

The Copyright Amendment Bill is currently being debated in the National Council of Provinces, and the Select Committee on Trade and International Relations recently called for further written submissions on the Bill.

Following the brief window for public submissions, the Select Committee will hold a meeting on 27 February to discuss the submissions.

While the Copyright Amendment Bill will finally make converting music from one format to another lawful under certain circumstances, it doesn’t legalise it across the board.

“The Copyright Amendment Bill doesn’t make format shifting legal, but it provides certain instances where format shifting can be used in limited circumstances,” Sarah Buerger and Jesse-Lee Wrensch from Michalsons told MyBroadband.

“The Bill allows a person to make a back-up copy and format-shift for personal use only. A library can also make a back-up copy and format shift or convert old technologies to new technologies.”

Years ago, when MyBroadband first wrote about this glaring problem in our local copyright law, the ability to legally convert your music between formats for personal use was a significant concern.

Today, people are switching to streaming services to listen to music – and one has to wonder whether this amendment to the Copyright Act still has any relevance.

Buerger and Wrensch said that it is still important and relevant, however, as South Africans will legally be able to make back-ups or format shift in limited circumstances.

“It’s particularly useful in the context of libraries that now can convert CDs to MP3s and store them in a format that is less likely to become damaged or corrupted.”

The CEO of the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA), Adv. Nhlanhla Paul Sibisi, agreed with them.

He said that many people in South Africa still download their playlists onto USB drives and CDs.

“Obviously, this is likely to change in the future as more and more people take to streaming services but, for now, it’s still relevant.”

Private copying levy

While relevant and a generally good thing for consumers, RiSA still isn’t entirely happy with the amendment as it currently stands in the Bill.

“Unfortunately, unlike in many countries in Europe, the Copyright Amendment Bill does not establish a private copying levy to finance fair compensation,” Sibisi said.

This levy would not be charged to the end users making private copies, but to manufacturers of digital reproduction equipment, devices, and recording media.

“This puts the South African creative industry at a huge financial disadvantage relative to our counterparts in Europe and North America. We lobbied government to consider introducing a private copying levy, but this was sadly ignored.”

Major “Fair Use” problems

Buerger and Wrensch added that there are still elements of the Bill that are weak, which should be addressed before it is signed into law.

“The Bill changes the concept of ‘fair dealing’ in the Act to ‘fair use’. This in itself could be problematic as ‘fair use’ is an American concept,” they explained.

“These amendments are a contentious issue and almost every single representation to Parliament raised an issue regarding this addition. Parliament made minor changes to the November 2018 draft, but we think that this will be an area of heated debate.”

Whether Parliament will make any further changes to the Bill remains to be seen.

Now read: ISPs must report South Africans for piracy – Cybercrimes Bill

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Ripping MP3s is illegal in South Africa