Understanding copyright law can be a minefield if you don’t know the basics. Do not despair – below is a brief guide to the basics of copyright law.
Copyright is “the right given to the creator, author, or other person who may own the copyright of certain types of works, not to have that work copied (reproduced) without authorization.”
Unlike most other forms of intellectual property, copyright exists automatically, meaning that it does not have to be registered in a court of law. For all types of copyright other than cinematographic film, no registration procedure is available or necessary in South Africa.
There are requirements for copyright to exist. These are:
- Originality (the work must be original)
- Material form (the work must be in a material form – i.e. it must exist as a tangible form. Tangible forms for copyright can be a document (Hand-written, or in Microsoft Word, Powerpoint etc). It could also be a sound recording, a film, or other readable or listenable form.
- Qualified person or publication (the creator or author of the work must be a citizen of South Africa or a legal body representing South Africa, or the work must have been first created in South Africa.)
- International cooperation
- Exclusion (Copyright only extends to work which is not immoral, obscene, libelous or irreligious.)
Copyright protects various categories, each of which has a slightly different protected time period.
Any original work which has been written (i.e. novels, poems etc)
Computer programs and Software
Any computer program which directs the operations of a computer or a computer program
This includes all artistic works as well as architecture and technical drawings
Musical Works and Films
Any film or price of music that has been recorded
These are classified as any sound recordings on any recording device, such as CD’s, cassette tapes, and other electronic recording devices.
Radio and TV broadcasts
Any radio or TV broadcast such as advertising, programming and government announcements would be covered under this.
In terms of the period covered by copyright, every category of work has a period of protection that applies. For any literary work, for example, this period is for the lifetime of the author and 50 years after the author passes away. For sound recordings, the work is protected for 50 years after the recording was first released.
Copyright law in South Africa is comprehensive and clear, once you understand the basics. Ensure you are fully aware of the protection categories, time periods and exclusions up front to avoid confusion or disappointment. This brief guide to the basics of copyright law should be your first point of call in understanding this.