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);

sound recordings;

cinematograph films;

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

computer programs.

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

Spoor and Fisher Team - Dina Biagio

Dina Biagio


Spoor and Fisher Team - Herman Blignaut

Herman Blignaut


Spoor and Fisher Team - John Foster

John Foster


Spoor and Fisher Team - Stephen Goldberg

Stephen Goldberg


Spoor and Fisher Team - Mohamed Khader

Mohamed Khader


Spoor and Fisher Team - Reinard Krüger

Reinard Krüger


Spoor and Fisher Team - Duncan Maguire

Duncan Maguire


Spoor and Fisher Team - John McKnight

Prof. John McKnight


Spoor and Fisher Team - Wayne Meiring

Wayne Meiring

Managing Director

Spoor and Fisher Team - Louise Myburgh

Louise Myburgh


Spoor and Fisher Team - Paul Ramara

Paul Ramara


Spoor and Fisher Team - Megan Reimers

Megan Reimers


Spoor and Fisher Team - Jeremy Speres

Jeremy Speres


Spoor and Fisher Team - Marco van der Merwe

Marco van der Merwe


Spoor and Fisher Team - Carl van Rooyen

Carl van Rooyen


Spoor and Fisher Team - Eben van Wyk

Eben van Wyk


Spoor and Fisher Team - Chris Walters

Chris Walters


Spoor and Fisher Team - Chantal Haydon

Chantal Haydon

Senior Paralegal

Spoor and Fisher Team - Dr Owen Dean

Dr Owen Dean


Spoor and Fisher Team - Vanessa van Coppenhagen

Vanessa van Coppenhagen