10 February 2009

Calling All Postermakers

In 2009, SAHA is undertaking a project aimed at addressing copyright as it relates to struggle posters in South Africa within the context of planned digitisation, web publication and reproduction for heritage, educational and non-commercial purposes.

SAHA is the custodian of a number of valuable collections, including the SAHA Poster Collection (AL2446), a large body of nearly 5000 unique posters which charts the struggle against apartheid, the transition to democracy, as well as ongoing struggles for justice in South Africa.

SAHA receives regular requests for permission to reproduce these resources, usually from educational publishers and heritage organisations. However, since SAHA does not own copyright on these posters, permission isn’t ours to give. In many cases, because of inadequacies in current South African copyright legislation in addressing the copyright of those images associated with the struggle for freedom in South Africa, it is not possible to identify who, if anyone, does own the copyright (please see our copyright page for more information).

The unclear and contested nature of copyright ownership for struggle art can be a deterrent to people and organisations interested in reproducing these images for educational, non-commercial purposes. But SAHA believes that these posters, made in the name of cultural activism and civic consumption, should be allowed to dwell in their intended public realm. This project constitutes SAHA's attempts to combat a perceived situation where our current copyright law effectively discourages the use of these heritage materials, and to open the way for the public use of these posters, while simultaneously demonstrating a vigorous attempt at due diligence as in line with the existing legislation as is possible.

SAHA is looking to secure the broad support of postermakers around use and reproduction of these images. In consultation with copyright lawyers and digitisation partners, SAHA has developed an in principle affirmation for identified individuals involved in the broad poster-making process to sign, indicating their support of the position that struggle art should be open to public, non-profit, non-exclusive use for educational and heritage purposes and, within these parameters, individual copyright will not be claimed. If you were involved in the creation of struggle posters, we ask that you indicate your support of this approach by completing and signing this in-principle affirmation form and returning it to SAHA.

In conjunction to this process, SAHA would like to work with postermakers to gather any information about the creation, production and distribution of posters within the SAHA Poster Collection. In undertaking this identification process, which will include an oral history component, SAHA is looking to improve and update the existing historical record which will, in turn, feed into accurate meta-data development for digitization and future research relating to resistance art in South Africa.

A further component of this project comprises a roundtable discussion in 2009 on copyright as it relates to struggle art. This discussion aims to address the issue of commercial and non-commercial use of posters and the ideal legal framework to govern their use. This would be a timely conversation given that a review of the copyright legislation in South Africa is urgently required and it will hopefully give informed direction to the reformulation of the Copyright Act as it relates to struggle art specifically and heritage in South Africa more generally. Based on the outcomes of this roundtable discussion, SAHA plans to circulate a paper outlining our position towards copyright of struggle art, as it relates to reproduction for educational or non-profit purposes, to key organisational stakeholders on whose behalf many of the images were created, such as the African National Congress and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, in the hope that we may be able to secure broad in-principle agreements from these organisations around the use of these images – while these organisations may not be able to assert copyright, it is only politic to secure their support in terms of the reproduction of images made in their names.

It is difficult to predict what the outcomes of this project will be but hopefully through engaging with key stakeholders and raising awareness around the existing gaps in the legislation as it relates to copyright and heritage, we can contribute to discussions around the re-drafting of copyright legislation and open the door for greater research into, and use of, of these heritage materials. If you would like to discuss SAHA's approach to copyright and struggle art or any of the planned activities outlined above, please contact Catherine Kennedy.