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If you're an author, designer, artist or independent computer programmer, you have to know the ins and outs of Copyright law, so you can protect your work from being used illegally. The same goes for anyone who wants to use someone else's work as well.
Copyright - the small © you often find at the bottom of a body of writing - is a legal term that gives rights to creators for their literary and artistic works not to have that work reproduced without authorisation. Copyright in South Africa is regulated by the Copyright Act and in most cases it applies for 50 years after the owner has died.
Unlike most other forms of intellectual property, Copyright exists automatically and does not have to be registered. The one exception is cinematographic films, but it's still important to know the legal implications of this law. Once a work is Copyrighted, the owner or author may give sell or give license to someone to use it.
It's important to know that if you have been hired or commissioned by someone else to create a work (writers, artists, photographers, etc), the Copyright belongs to the person who has paid you to do the job.
The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) offers step-by-step instructions on how to protect your intellectual property. For information on the registration procedure, visit the website or call them on 0861 843 384.
What kind of protection does Copyright provide?
Using someone else's work for public distribution or viewing is illegal. If the creator of a Copyrighted work finds that you have used it without their permission or paying for the privilege, they can bring a lawsuit against you or get a court order to prevent you from doing this.
Using the work (or an extract from it) for an internal document, teaching purposes, a study assignment, presentation or to report on a current event is not in itself illegal, but you must name the source of the work. The bottom line is: don't try to pass someone else's thoughts and ideas off as your own.
Copyright is a much more complicated issue than what is presented in this article, as there are various other details and laws that apply, depending on the type of work and industry norms. To find out more, visit the CIPC website or seek the advice of an Intellectual Property lawyer.