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South Africa Faces US Trade Sanctions over Online Piracy



The US Trade Representative has launched a review of South Africa’s copyright protection policies, which could result in trade sanctions. The announcement follows a petition from the IIPA, which represents the MPA, RIAA, and other entertainment industry groups. The organizations are unhappy with how South Africa is handling the threat of online piracy and are demanding change.

The entertainment industry is a major driver of the US economy, good for millions of jobs and billions in revenue.

To protect this industry the US Government is keeping a close eye on copyright policies around the world.

This often happens following referrals from industry groups. For example, earlier this year the US Trade Representative (USTR) was asked to take a close look at South Africa’s copyright track record.

This request came from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA). This coalition of prominent rightsholder groups, including the MPA and RIAA, informed the USTR that it’s not happy with how South Africa addresses copyright issues.

In its submission the IIPA called for trade sanctions, recommending that the U.S. Government should suspend South Africa’s GSP trade benefits. According to the group, the country doesn’t do enough to protect the interests of copyright holders.

“South Africa does not meet the GSP eligibility criteria primarily due to its weak copyright law and enforcement regime,” the IIPA noted.

The USTR took the matter seriously and recently launched an official review of South Africa’s intellectual property rights protections, asking the public for input. If these protections are not deemed to be “adequate and effective” the country faces trade sanctions.

“USTR has accepted a petition filed by the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA). The petition alleges that the Government of South Africa does not provide adequate and effective copyright protection for U.S. copyrighted works,” the USTR announced.

In recent years, copyright issues have already been on the political agenda in South Africa. Lawmakers have been working on a new copyright bill, which is close to being signed into law. However, according to the IIPA, this hasn’t delivered any progress. On the contrary.

“This legislation will move South Africa further away from international norms by failing to establish a clear legal framework to provide adequate and effective protection of copyrighted material, especially in the digital environment,” the IIPA noted.

The group strives for modern copyright laws and enforcement regimes around the world and notes that the African country falls short. Among other things, the IIPA would like South Africa to appoint special cybercrime inspectors and develop a cybercrime security hub, recognizing copyright as a top priority.

While the US Government can’t write South Africa’s laws directly, trade sanctions might just help motivate the local Government to take action in the interest of US companies. That would certainly not be the first time.

In 2017 the US Government sanctioned Ukraine following a similar referral from the IIPA. This triggered a wave of copyright-related actions in the country, after which President Trump decided to lift the sanctions last month.


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