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Zimbabwe: Government to Put Public Documents Under Copyright Protection, Making Citizens’ Access More Difficult

(Dec. 6, 2010)

It was reported on November 26, 2010, that the Zimbabwean government has proposed a bill, the General Laws Amendment Bill, that includes a provision, clause 16, that would put under copyright protection government-issued documents currently in the public domain (Another Gag Law Threat, THE FINANCIAL GAZETTE (Nov. 26, 2010),

Current Zimbabwean law excludes these government-issued documents from copyright protection:

  • official texts of enactments;
  • official texts of bills prepared for presentation in parliament;
  • official records of judicial proceedings and decisions;
  • notices, advertisements, and other materials published in the OFFICIAL GAZETTE;
  • applications, specifications, and other matters published in the country's PATENT AND TRADE MARKS JOURNAL;
  • official texts of international conventions, treaties, and agreements to which Zimbabwe is a party;
  • entries in and documents that form part of any register that is kept under the terms of an enactment and is open to public inspection; and
  • such other documents of a public nature as may be prescribed. (Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act 11 of 2000, §10(6), Cap 26:05 (Nov. 17, 2000).)

If passed in its current form, the bill would put these documents under copyright protection with the government as the holder of the copyright. This would give the government unfettered power to control the re-publication and dissemination of documents after their initial publication in government gazettes (Paidamoyo Muzulu, General Laws Bill “Inimical to Democracy, ZIMBABWE INDEPENDENT (Nov. 25, 2010),

Local rights groups are said to be voicing strong opposition to clause 16. VERITAS, a local nongovernmental organization, called the move to adopt the bill “inimical to democracy.” It contends that passage of the bill would deny the citizenry the right to freely access and distribute public documents, violate the freedom of expression clause of the Zimbabwe Constitution, and make government less transparent (id.). Takura Zhangazha, a civic activist, called the bill a political move by the government to restrict rights groups from disseminating information in preparation for elections next year (id.)