Copyright in Africa
When your vision becomes reality, it’s worth protecting.
When your idea becomes a work that is expressed in material form, the work can and should be protected by copyright. This form of intellectual property protection prevents others from copying the work without your authorisation.
But it’s not possible to register copyright, apart from films.
Copyright exists automatically when the work is created, if the work is original and fits into a category that is recognised and protected by the Copyright Act, like literary works, artistic works, computer programs, musical works, cinematograph films, sound recordings, broadcasts and programme-carrying signals.
Given that copyright applies broadly to numerous facets of daily life and applies across borders, Spoor & Fisher’s expertise in copyright law spans:
- copyright advice and opinions on subsistence (protection), ownership, licensing, transfer and infringement;
- the commercialisation or exploitation of copyright (including licensing and/or transfer provisions); and
- litigation, should this become necessary.
We also assist with online takedown notices and processes. This helps you to have user-uploaded material removed from websites if it infringes your copyright.
Spoor & Fisher is home to many of South Africa’s leading copyright practitioners, who have been instrumental in drafting national copyright legislation – including extensive commentary on the South Africa Copyright Amendment Bill.
We have also litigated in some of the biggest, groundbreaking copyright cases.
We proudly serve South African copyright owners who want to protect their copyright globally, as well as foreign copyright owners seeking protection in Africa.
What’s the most important thing to know about copyright in South Africa?
In most countries, unlike other forms of IP protection provided for by statute, copyright need not be registered. It subsists automatically. There is one exception in South Africa: the copyright subsisting in cinematograph films, which also vests automatically but can also be registered.)
But despite the fact that there’s no need for registration when it comes to copyright, some countries do allow for voluntary registration. This is intended to solve disputes over ownership or creation, as well as to facilitate financial transactions, sales, and the assignment and/or transfer of rights.
What types of content enjoy copyright protection in South Africa?
To be eligible for copyright, the subject matter must qualify as one or more of the types of “works” provided for in the relevant copyright legislation. In South Africa, these are:
literary works (for example, novels, poems, tables and manuals);
artistic works (for example, photographs, paintings and drawings);
musical works (for example, music reduced to writing or musical notations preserved in a material form, like a record or a tape);
broadcasts (for example, radio and television);
program-carrying signals (for example, a signal being emitted and passing through a satellite);
published editions (i.e. the first print of a particular typographical arrangement of a literary or musical work); and
What rights does copyright give me as the owner?
As the owner, you enjoy:
economic rights, which allow you to derive financial reward from the use of your copyright by others. As the author of a copyright work (who is not always the owner), you also enjoy moral rights which protect your non-economic interests, such as the right to claim authorship and object to the distortion of the work.
Most copyright laws state that the owner of copyright has the economic right to authorise or prevent certain uses in relation to a work or, in some cases, to receive remuneration for the use of your work. For example, your economic rights can prohibit or authorise:
reproduction in various forms, such as printed publication or sound recording;
public performance, such as in a play or musical work;
broadcasting, by radio, cable or satellite;
translation into other languages; and
adaptation, such as a novel into a film screenplay.
What are the requirements for copyright protection in South Africa?
The first requirement is that the relevant subject matter constitute a “work” as provided for by the Act.
Second, the work must be original, meaning that it has not been copied from another source. You will have had to invest your own time, money, effort, skill, knowledge and endeavours in creating the work.
Third, the work must be in a material form; i.e. a physical or tangible product must exist. It cannot be a thought or idea; it must have been created and then “fixed”: by being written down, recorded, filmed or captured electronically.
Finally, you must be a “qualified person”; that is, an individual who is a South African citizen or is domiciled or resident in South Africa. In the case of a juristic person, a qualified person is one with a registered place of business in South Africa or a country that is a member of the Berne Convention.
What is the © symbol? Do I need to include it on my work?
Not anymore. The symbol © is an indication that copyright has been claimed. In the past, some countries had legislation in place that required you to include it but today, very few countries – including ours – include the use of such symbols as a legal requirement.
If you are interested in exploring a copyright matter, please contact us for more information.
Meet the team
Prof. John McKnight
Marco van der Merwe
Carl van Rooyen
Eben van Wyk
Dr Owen Dean
Vanessa van Coppenhagen