Copyright: author sues film company re. South Africa’s political transformation

Regulation & Policy

The author of two books about South Africa’s political transformation is suing the makers of a documentary titled Miracle Rising: South Africa for over R2 million damages for allegedly adapting or reproducing from his work without his authorisation.

Geoffrey Heald won the first round of his legal battle against Randburg production company Combined Artists CC when a North Gauteng High Court judge ruled that his claim would have to be tested by a trial court.

Judge Bill Prinsloo dismissed Combined Artists’ exception that Heald’s claim did not reveal any cause of action against them.

Heald wrote two books in 1998 and 2011 dealing with the constitutional negotiations leading up to the transition to a new democratic dispensation and South Africa’s surrendering of its nuclear arms capacity.

He claimed in court papers the documentary film, made between 2011 and 2012, constituted an adaptation or reproduction of his books Learning Amongst Enemies and South Africa’s Voluntary Relinquishments of its Nuclear Arsenal (both titles shortened).

Heald said the creation of his two books involved considerable independent skill, knowledge and effort; were not copied from any other source; and each was an original work.

He claimed the documentary constituted an infringement of copyright and he had suffered damages as a result.

Combined Artists submitted Heald had not disclosed a sufficient degree of similarity between the material.

They contended there was no copyright in ideas, thoughts or facts and that the historical facts and extracts from interviews mentioned in Heald’s books did not constitute original material.

They insisted it would be impossible to prove copyright subsisted in the material.

Heald, amongst others, contended the documentary was predicated on the proposition of a so-called “falsification thesis” found in one of his books, namely that the negotiated outcome “was a miracle or a fluke”, and it copied many of his interviews.

Judge Prinsloo said Combined Arists wanted him to decide the issue without even having regard to the books or the documentary. He said it would be wrong to do so and it was clear the facts would have to be tested by a trial court.