I recently learnt that, according to a new Amendment Bill in the Copyright Law of South Africa, a publisher needs to ask for permission to publish a version of a South African folktale.
My first thought when I heard this was, "but most folktales are passed down orally, so who do we have to ask for permission?"
The complicated answer is that you would get to ask the community where the folktale originated, but in my mind that's not practical. Say you want to publish a retelling of a Setswana folktale, like the story of Tselane and the giant, which I'm actually planning to publish next month. Who do I ask for permission? My own king here in Phokeng? Or one of the chiefs of the Batswana tribes here in the North West province of South Africa? Or maybe I should ask my cousins the Batswana people of Botswana, who are actually in an entirely different country which has a different copyright law? Not that they are a homogenous group either!
The good news for me and the children's folktales I'm publishing is that this is still a Bill, and those take a lot of time to be promulgated. I haven't even seen a request from parliament for comments on the Bill. However, it will have long-term implications on my favourite form of storytelling for children and I want to stay on the ball as things develop.
P.S. This post is based entirely on my understanding of someone else's understanding of SA Copyright Law. So, take whatever I'm saying with a grain of salt. I'm planning to research the Bill so I have read the provisions myself instead of relying on hearsay. I haven't found a copy of the Bill yet. We'll see where the info takes me.
Meanwhile, what do you think of the concept that publishers may have to ask for permission to publish South African folktales?