South Africa: ICJ argues that Copyright Act must be struck down because it fails to protect the rights of persons with print disabilities


Today, the ICJ, represented by the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), will present oral arguments in a case in which the disability rights NGO BlindSA seeks confirmation of a High Court order that declared the Copyright Act unconstitutional due to its failure to provide exceptions to provide for the rights persons with print disabilities.

The ICJ argues that the Constitutional Court should confirm this ruling for South Africa to comply with its international legal obligations guaranteeing the rights of persons with disabilities.

Persons with print disabilities, including persons with visual disabilities, often cannot obtain reading materials in accessible formats. South Africa’s Copyright Act serves to restrict access to reading materials for persons with disabilities unless individual copyright holders elect to make such materials accessible or available for appropriate adaptation.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) will be intervening as an amicus curiae in the matter of BlindSA v Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition in the Constitutional Court of South Africa. The case is a request for the Constitutional Court to confirm a successful Gauteng High Court order. The case has been brought by BlindSA, a non-governmental organization which works to improve the quality of lives of visually impaired persons in South Africa. They are represented by SECTION27.

In a judgment handed down by Judge Mbongwe in December 2021, the High Court agreed with the ICJ’s arguments in this respect and held that:

“In my view, a developing country such as ours can ill-afford to not keep abreast with international standards more so on matters commonly affecting human rights and humanity worldwide. A coherent international approach that manifests in the laws of the individual States is the most practical mechanism to employ in such instances.”

The ICJ argues that international human rights law and standards, including as set out in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, should be considered and applied by the Court.

In particular, it draws the Court’s attention to the need to consider international copyright law alongside international human rights law consistently with Article 31(3)(c) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which requires international law to be understood as a coherent whole.

Represented by EELC, the ICJ has already filed its written arguments before the Court. The ICJ’s oral arguments will be presented to the Constitutional Court by Advocate Muhammad Zakaria Suleman.

A live stream of the proceedings will be available online here.

Read the ICJ’s heads of arguments here.

Further reading:

[Blog] Ending Book Famine and Vaccine Inequality: What a South African Court’s Decision on Copyright Law has to do with COVID-19 Vaccine Access

[Op-ed] The Copyright Amendment Bill: A step closer to making rights to education and health a reality

[Joint submission with EELC] Submissions on Copyright Amendment Bill


Timothy Fish Hodgson, ICJ Legal Adviser on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, e:, c: +27828719905

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Director of the ICJ Africa Programme at the International Commission of Jurists, e:

Mulesa Lumina, Communications Officer for the ICJ Africa Regional Programme, e:

Anele Gcwabe, Media and Communications Coordinator at Equal Education Law Centre, e:


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