South Africa’s copyright bill is good for digital archives. Here’s why



Digital archives.
Shutterstock

Denise Rosemary Nicholson, University of the Witwatersrand

To fulfil their mission in the 21st century, libraries, archives, museums and galleries must engage in a wide variety of new activities.

Libraries, for example, house collections of printed works but must now also provide access to online journals, e-books, multimedia, Africana and archival treasures, images, government publications and legal material, posters and artworks. Collection, development, cataloguing, lending, preservation and replacement must take place online as well as in hard copy.

Academic libraries – and even some school ones – are now embedded in core teaching programmes. They support education and innovation and provide services for people with disabilities. Library services include teaching, literacy programmes, research support, data management, and copyright and plagiarism awareness training.

As knowledge hubs, libraries must meet the various information needs of a country’s citizens. In addition, they promote authors and publishers by purchasing, collecting and preserving their works for perpetuity.

Without access to library and archival collections, creativity and innovation would be almost impossible.

But South Africa’s current copyright law dates back to 1978, and is completely inadequate, outdated and irrelevant in a digital world. It has been a barrier to access to information for far too long.

South Africa’s Copyright Amendment Bill is waiting for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signature. The bill has been strongly contested. Academic Sanya Samtani, for example, supports the bill with an argument based on her PhD research. For its part, the Coalition for Effective Copyright strongly opposes it.

There is merit in all these arguments. But my view is that there is positive news in the Bill’s provisions for libraries, archives, museums and galleries. For example, it will ensure that valuable documentary records and cultural heritage can be preserved for future generations.

What has been missing

The current Copyright Act has no provisions for libraries, archives, galleries and museums. As an afterthought, limited provisions were included in Section 13 regulations for libraries and archives.

Digitisation is the main form of preserving material in the 21st century. Yet the country’s copyright law doesn’t permit it. This causes serious problems for libraries, archives, museums and galleries. They are currently unable to digitise any of their works without first having to get copyright permission, and to pay high copyright fees.

Such entities have large collections of fragile material which can no longer be handled. The only way to preserve this material – and to make it accessible – is to digitise the content. For example, there are media libraries full of Beta and VHS video tapes, film reels and other material that can no longer be accessed as the technologies are obsolete.

To convert these works to current technologies, libraries and related entities must first get copyright permission. In many instances, rights-holders ignore the requests, or are impossible to trace (making them orphan works). In some cases permission is denied. Collections end up with gaps in them.

These issues affect access to archives, which are used for research, teaching and learning, creating and innovating and sharing information. They get in the way of the civic right to access information provided in the South African Constitution.

Lack of adequate and appropriate copyright limitations and exceptions for libraries, archives, museums and galleries have inhibited or prevented them from carrying out their statutory mandates. They have large collections of valuable documents, posters, artworks, artefacts, newspapers, recordings, and images that cannot be reproduced or even accessed. Often this is because the rights-holders cannot be traced, and there are no provisions for orphan works in the current law.

On top of this, restrictive licences and contracts often prevent libraries and similar entities from carrying out their duties. Cross-border exchanges aren’t permitted. Interlibrary loans are permitted in the current law, but this does not extend to digital sharing.

Positive news

The new Copyright Amendment Bill takes cognisance of existing international conventions and treaties, treaty proposals and foreign laws. It also draws on the country’s Constitution and the excellent EIFL Model Copyright law, drafted by information specialists in various countries, including South Africa. This document is a practical guide to assist librarians, as well as their legal advisors and policy-makers, when national laws are being updated. It is designed to support access to knowledge and the public interest mission of libraries.

The Bill also implements the principles of the 2015 Cape Town Declaration, signed by South Africa and 12 other African countries. This includes the commitment

to encourage the implementation of fair and balanced copyright laws to facilitate access to information for all.

The Bill doesn’t use the word “digitisation” specifically. But it will allow libraries, archives, museums and galleries to engage in preservation, digital curation and format-shifting. This will ensure their collections are preserved and made accessible for future generations.

They will be able to share information and replace lost or stolen works. They will also be able to provide information, images, recordings or other media for historical events, exhibitions and educational purposes.

Legal deposit libraries will also finally be able to carry out their statutory mandates. These include that they collect, preserve and make accessible the country’s cultural heritage and historical documentary records in the digital space.

The Bill has been given the thumbs up by the International Federation of Library and Institutions – the leading international body representing the interests of library and information services and their users. It represents over 2.3 million libraries worldwide, serving over a billion users. It has labelled the Bill both progressive and practical. The International Council of Archives, the umbrella organisation that promotes international cooperation for archives and archivists, has also formally supported the Bill.

This suggests that South Africa is about to have a copyright law that could serve as a precedent for other countries.The Conversation

Denise Rosemary Nicholson, Scholarly Communications Librarian, University of the Witwatersrand

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Gunpowder Plot: torture and persecution in fact and fiction



After the main plotters of the Gundpowder plot were tortured and executed, accusations of treason, heresy, and witchcraft were used to persecute other enemies of the Crown.
Crispijn van de Passe the Elder/ Wikimedia

Shareena Z Hamzah, Swansea University

In 1605, England’s parliament was sitting on a powder keg, literally. Like now, the country was bitterly divided between two factions, with religion at the heart of the schism after the Reformation pitted Protestants and Catholics against each other in a life or death struggle. History tells us that instead of seeking a political solution such as an election, a group of 13 Catholic conspirators plotted to blow up parliament.

The conspiracy aimed to assassinate King James I and the Protestant establishment with a massive explosion under the House of Lords. Every “fifth of November” since then, what is now known as the Gunpowder Plot is remembered in Britain through bonfires, fireworks and the burning of effigies of one of the conspirators, Guido (Guy) Fawkes. Following the torture and execution of Fawkes and his co-conspirators, accusations of treason, heresy, and witchcraft were used to persecute many of the perceived enemies of the crown.

The process of arrest, torture, trial and execution was widespread, as the king sought to rid the country of his twin hatreds: Catholicism and witchcraft. This purge caused many Catholics, especially priests, to flee northwards to escape the king’s revenge. Lancashire came to be perceived by the royal court as a lawless area where Catholicism and witchcraft thrived – and it was there that the infamous Pendle witch trials of 1612 took place.

Though evidence remains from the actual trials, one of the most intriguing accounts didn’t come until 400 years after the events, when author Jeanette Winterson published her work of fiction, The Daylight Gate. In this story, the fates of a group of vagrant women and a Catholic nobleman, Christopher Southworth, converge when the attention of the law turns towards them. Winterson uses the genuine names of the women who were tried for witchcraft – though freely fictionalising their lives. Southworth was also a real person, a Jesuit priest from one of the oldest families in Lancashire.

An illustration of Ann Redferne and Chattox, two of the ‘Pendle witches’.
William Harrison Ainsworth/Wikimedia Commons

As in real life, the women in the novel are charged with murder by witchcraft. Whether they committed acts of witchcraft or not, that is not their true crime here. These women have too much power and liberty for the patriarchal Protestant society in which they live. Southworth, meanwhile, is hunted in the novel for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot. Captured previously, he had escaped from prison and fled to France, before returning to England to save his sister from her own witch trial.

There is no evidence to show the real Southworth was a part of the Gunpowder Plot. But historical record shows us Southworth was accused of coaching a young girl to make false accusations of witchcraft against her family – possible because the family had renounced Catholicism and converted to Protestantism. Given this, it’s likely he would have supported at least the aims of the Gunpowder Plot.

Monstrous marks

The fictional women’s bodies are sites onto which the men of the law project both their fears and desires. “Look her over for the witch marks – go on, Robert, run your hands across her. Do you like her breasts?”, remarks a constable’s assistant. But these are bodies made monstrous by the effects of poverty. The feet of the appropriately named Mouldheels are described as stinking “of dead meat … wrapped in rags and already beginning to ooze”. Yet despite this monstrosity, these women are still raped by their captors as desire, disgust and domination merge.

Southworth’s status in the novel is initially different from the women. He was born and raised with the twin privileges of being male and wealthy. With no marks on his body to denote his Catholic faith, he could not be identified as an “other” without specific knowledge of his religious divergence from the ruling class. But, following the failed Gunpowder Plot, his torture at the hands of the king’s jailers results in his body being made monstrous. Attempts to blind Southworth leave scars on his eyelids and cheeks, and pictures are carved into his chest with knives.

Like the women, he is raped by his jailers. He is then literally emasculated when his penis and testicles are cut off. Perhaps luckily for the real-life Southworth, there is no evidence of an arrest, although his historical records are very scant. By comparison, the archives indicate the torture of Fawkes at the hands of the king’s inquisitors.

In this febrile, paranoid society of post-Gunpowder Plot England, the connection between Catholics and witches is stated explicitly. As Potts, the prosecutor sent by the royal court to seek out heretics, says: “Witchery popery, popery witchery. What is the difference?”. The outcomes are certainly very similar. And the burning of the womens’ bodies after their execution mirrors the ritual bonfires and immolation of Guy Fawkes effigies that have celebrated the failure of the Catholic plotters ever since.

Winterson’s novel forces the reader to consider what a monster is and what they might look like. Elizabeth Device, one of the supposed witches, is described as follows: “The strangeness of her eye deformity made people fear her. One eye looked up and the other looked down, and both eyes were set crooked in her face.” But her disfigured appearance had not saved her from being raped nine years before the novel’s setting. Throughout the book, fear and disgust mix dangerously with desire and power to produce awful crimes.

The real monsters are the men who savagely abuse and oppress the unfortunate – whether women or Catholics. Yet, they are not represented as physically repulsive. One of the torturers even has a “pleasant voice” as he questions his victims. In the end, The Daylight Gate reveals that monstrous desires produce and prey on monstrous bodies, and all those subjected to the burning heat of the king’s revenge eventually turn to ash. While the political situation in Britain today has moved away from the Catholic/Protestant schism of 1605, it is worth remembering the human tragedies behind the celebration of Bonfire Night.The Conversation

Shareena Z Hamzah, Honorary Research Associate, Swansea University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.