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How to Copyright Your Work

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Published Date: November 7, 2020

As legally-binding protection over original works, copyright can be enforced by intellectual property (IP) attorneys, who can also assist those looking to become copyright owners. An IP attorney will be able to guide clients through application and action proceedings, as well as interdicts and royalty claims.

Copyright Types

The following ‘work’ can qualify for protection by virtue of Copyright in South Africa:

  • 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.

How Can I Register Copyright?

Copyright automatically vests in “a work” by the designer / creator thereof, provided that it complies with the following requirements:-

  1. The relevant subject-matter must constitute a “work” as provided for by the Act.
  2. Secondly, a work must be original meaning that it was not copied from another source, but that the author has invested his / her own time, money, effort, skill, knowledge and endeavours to create the work. A work can still be original even if it embodies existing material i.e. an opinion based on research material, provided that the work is created by the author’s individual effort and so-called “sweat of the brow”. This requirement is also met.
  3. Thirdly, a work must be in a material form in that a physical or tangible product exists.  This requirement entails that the work cannot be a mere thought or idea, but that it must have been created and then “fixed” in some manner. The fixing can take place in a number of ways, e.g. by having the content written down, recorded, filmed or captured electronically
  4. Fourthly, the author of the work must be a qualified person such as a citizen of South Africa, or be resident / domiciled in South Africa, or a country to which the operation of the Copyright Act has been extended or in the event of a juristic person that entity must be incorporated under South African laws.

The general rule is that, the person who creates a work owns the Copyright in that work.  Thus, the author of a work is normally the first owner of the Copyright subsisting therein.  However, there are certain exceptions to this general rule. For example, if the person who creates the work creates it during the course and scope of his employment, his employer will own the Copyright of that work; a person who is employed by a newspaper or magazine and the literary or artistic work is made by him during the course of his employment and made for purposes of publication in the newspaper or magazine, the employer, insofar as it relates to the publication, is the owner of the Copyright.

With the exception of films and movies, there is no such thing as copyright registration in South Africa. Copyright exists automatically upon the creation of a work, if it is a category of work recognised and protected by the Copyright Act.

You can showcase your own original work and its copyright by mentioning that it is copyright protected, or using the international symbol for copyright before the name and the year of creation i.e. © My Work 2020

How to Protect Your Copyright from Copyright Infringement

An owner of copyright can take steps against a work being copied, adapted, published, broadcast or being communicated to the public in certain other manners, as well as against other acts of exploitation as provided for in the Copyright Act, without authorisation.

The required ‘guilty knowledge’ can be imparted to a person by issuing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice to them. Copyright infringement cases are litigated in the High Court and the relief granted may include an interdict, delivery-up of infringing material as well as damages, which include damages in the form of royalty claims.

Our copyright lawyers specialise in the enforcement of copyright and can assist you with assessing and prosecuting your claim. Contact us for more information.

How can we help you?

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