Article by Dr Hannes Nel
I read the parts of the Copyright Amendment Bill that might apply to private learning institutions. The Bill, it is said, is of primary importance to the government, which is why they are exceptionally keen to get it approved by Parliament. Most of the Bill is quite acceptable and seems to protect the intellectual property- and copyrights of those who create art and knowledge.
However, it takes just one clause to destroy the validity, integrity, viability, and motives of an Act. Subtle twists in the wording of the Bill, such as “to prevent people from locking away information” and “to ensure that work is made available to the public and disabled people” sounds noble, but destroys the rights of those who created the work in the first place. The Bill creates so much confusion that it would be impossible for creators of art or knowledge to defend their rights in a court of law. Granting the public free access to the work of others is especially damaging to the status of universities, placing a question mark over the authenticity of research reports prepared by post-graduate students and academic staff members.
No wonder that some quality assurance bodies do not hesitate to make the training materials developed by private learning institutions freely available to public- and private learning institutions of their choice. They know that the individual or private institution who holds intellectual property rights is not protected by legislation or the government. Here are some of the experiences that we had with learning manuals that we developed:
- A lecturer at a rural branch of a university told us that they are using one of our manuals.
- Every so often we are attacked by learners who attended a course supposedly offered by us who did not receive certificates. When we investigate the complaint, we often find that somebody else offered the course making use of our learning materials. They do not even remove our name from the materials before using it.
- A private provider purchased the manuals for a full national qualification (18 manuals) from us but only paid for shared copyrights. Shared copyrights mean that they may use the manuals to teach their learners, but they may not resell it. Full copyrights would have cost five times more than what they paid. Although they knew what shared copyrights mean – it was explained in our quotation – they sold copies to their clients, whom they allowed to offer the qualification under their license. One of their clients was a government department. When an employee of the department told us that they are using our materials we had our attorney send them a letter in which we asked to see the learning materials that they use. Their legal section refused to allow us to see the materials.
- A certain Seta contracted us to develop the learning materials for five qualifications for them. They told us that they need the materials to serve as a standard against which they could evaluate learning materials submitted by providers who applied for accreditation to offer the qualifications. I recently had a meeting with the management of a TVET College. When I introduced myself, one of the managers said: “Mentornet, we use some of your training materials. It is very good quality.” Where did they get the materials?
- At a meeting where representatives of approximately 15 private learning institutions were present, a manager of the Seta for whom we developed learning materials told the delegates that they gave the contract to Mentornet because more than half of the providers accredited by them use our materials anyway. Only about 10% of private providers accredited by this Seta purchased materials from us, so where did the other approximately 40% get our materials?
There are two reasons why we do not take legal action against people who use our training materials without our permission and without paying. Firstly, it is almost impossible to win a case where copyrights are at issue. Secondly, our primary function is to offer learning and we do not wish to risk losing our accreditation.