How is copyright achieved?
Whenever someone creates a piece of original work based on their own idea, they are automatically granted copyright on that creation. This includes work produced by authors, musicians, computer programmers, artists etc. Copyright protects the particular expression of ideas (e.g. the text of a book), and not the ideas themselves (e.g. the plot or storyline).
Once someone has taken their idea and turned it into material form, they will immediately own the copyright on their work without having to register it or inform someone else, the only exception to this is cinematograph films, which can be registered. After a musician has written and recorded a song, for instance, the song would have automatically become copyrighted with the musician being the copyright owner. Things that are part of the public domain do not fall under copyright. A public speech by a politician or public lecture by an author falls within the public domain so would not have copyright. A newspaper journalist, for example, would be able to reproduce and quote from a public lecture without the speaker’s permission.
What if there was more than one person involved?
The person who has copyright ownership over a product differs depending on the type of creation. In the case of a literary work, such as a novel, it would be the person who first created the work, the author. However, if it is a film, the person who made all the arrangements of the film, such as the producer, would own the copyright, and not the actors. If a person created something under the proprietorship of someone else or a business, then the copyright belongs to that person or entity, not the creator.
Who will protect my copyrighted work?
All countries who have signed the Berne Convention will automatically protect the copyright of any original work that someone produces. That means if you create a painting here in South Africa, it will still be copyright protected in another country, such as America, that’s part of the Berne Convention.
Has someone violated my copyright?
If another person has made photocopies of your work for themselves only, then it’s not a copyright infringement. As mentioned earlier, recording, copying or reproducing a public speech is also not a copyright infringement. In the academic world, it’s common for people to use each other’s material or research. If the original author and their work is properly acknowledged by being cited, then no infringement has happened. However, if the original work has not been properly cited, it would be considered a serious copyright infringement, or plagiarism.
So when do I know if someone has infringed on my copyright? If another person has used or reproduced your original work to share with others for profit, without your permission, then this would amount to a copyright infringement. Taking another person’s song and selling it online without paying royalties or informing them, for instance, would be a serious copyright infringement. Another example is if someone takes the literary or academic work of the original author, and puts their own name to it, making it seem as if they were the original author.
What is the duration of copyright?
Copyright doesn’t last forever. However, they do last for a long period of time. Copyright lifespans also differ depending on the type of work produced. For example, copyright on literary work lasts for 50 years after the death of the author. Copyright over films lasts for 50 years after the date the film was first shown. Computer programs have a copyright that lasts for 50 years after the first copies of the program were made available.
In short, if you have created something original, such as a song or painting, you don’t have to figure out how to protect it. The law automatically protects you as the original creator of your work.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)