Pretoria – The Gauteng High Court Johannesburg issued a final interdict against veteran documentary producer Sylvia Vollenhoven in terms of which she may not distribute or broadcast the documentary Project Spear, which was commissioned by the public broadcaster.
While the SABC accepted her documentary and it was due to be broadcasted in September 2012, but this never happened. The SABC gave various reasons for this, ranging from that it was not good enough, had “gaping holes” and that it opened the SABC for defamation claims as there were allegations which could not be substantiated.
But Vollenhoven was set on the world seeing her documentary and she said in a letter to the SABC that “I think this is an important story and I will do my best to get it out there. My legal advice is that the SABC cannot stop me from pursuing a current version of the story…”
The SABC in 2010 released a public request for proposals for an investigative documentary which had to contain cutting edge material. Vollenhoven presented her documentary which dealt with the illegal financial assistance given by the previous government through the South African Reserve Bank to major South African financial institutions.
The SABC paid R559 169 to VIA, the production house, and maintained that it thus held the copyright to the documentary.
Vollenhoven intended to screen the documentary at the Franschoek literary festival in May 2013, but the SABC got an undertaking from her that she would not. When it became evident that the SABC was not going to screen it, she applied to buy back the rights. The SABC, however, made it clear it was not going to sell her the rights.
Acting Judge Lawrence Nowosenetz said it is clear that the copyright vested in the SABC, as it paid for it, but he said there is nothing preventing Vollenhoven to still tell her story, as long as she did not use the documentary for which the SABC paid.
She scored a partial victory when the judge ordered the SABC to within 14 days enter into negotiations with Vollenhoven as to whether she could buy back the rights to the documentary.