Copyright Protection Explained

Copyright protection and the laws surrounding copyright infringement are governed by the Copyright Act of 1978. Copyright is the legal protection of certain classes of original work. The owner of the copyright is given the exclusive right to utilise their original work as they choose, with sole authority to permit others to use it.

Copyright Act Categories

The classes of original work that constitute the right to be protected by copyright in South Africa include:

  • Literary works including novels, stories, poetry, and other written works such as textbooks, reports, articles etc. These can also include original speeches, lectures, and sermons.
  • Auditory works including songs, sound recordings, broadcasted music, musical works etc.
  • Artistic works including paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, architecture, etc.
  • Cinematographic works including programme-carrying signal that has been transmitted by satellite, cinematography, film scenarios, and broadcasting scripts.
  • Programme-carrying signals e.g. signals embodying a programme.
  • Computer programs, original data etc.

Copyright Infringement

Copyright is infringed upon when an unauthorised party copies, uses, rents out or sells original work without authorisation from the originator. In order to avoid infringing on the copyright, a party may obtain usage or selling rights via a licensing agreement.

Guidelines for Written Copyright

In order to make use of literary work of the originator, a party may follow these guidelines to avoid infringement:

  • The originator’s permission must be sought if a significant portion of the work is being reproduced. In such cases, it is good practice to reference the name and source of the original work.
  • Permission is not necessary should the usage of the original work be minimal (i.e. small paragraphs, quotes, etc.), however, a reference must be made to the author.
  • Should the work be used in academic institutions, research, or for private, it is generally accepted that references are acceptable without obtaining permission.

Copyright Protection Lifespan

The lifespan of copyright protection will vary according to the form of original work it is protecting. The originator may assign the copyright over to a new party should they wish to do so.

The lifespan of copyright depends on the type of work protected:

  • Literary copyright will stand until 50 years from when the first edition was made public.
  • For sound recordings, the copyright will stand for 50 years from the day the work was first made public.
  • The copyright of computer programs lasts for 50 years after the first copies were made available to the public.

In South Africa, the Courts rarely award punitive damages for copyright infringement, though the Copyright Act has recently undergone a reform. For legal advice surrounding copyright and copyright infringement, as well as trademarks and patents, it is best to consult an intellectual property attorney. Contact our expert team for more information.

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We have offices in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, please contact your nearest office for any legal enquiry or assistance.