What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection which does not need registration. The creator of an original work automatically becomes the owner of copyright in that creation at the moment that the work is written down on paper or recorded in some other fixed format in a material form as a tangible means of expression.

Note that copyright protects the physical expression of the idea only, not the underlying idea or concept itself.

Copyright is automatically granted in South Africa. Also, through the Berne Convention, an international agreement for the protection of literary and artistic works all countries signatory to the Berne Convention will respect the copyright in their own country. View the list of countries here. The 164 members include most of the countries worldwide with significant economic activity. If there is a country that you are concerned about and it is not on this list, you would need to look specifically at that country's national copyright requirements.

The Berne Convention is particularly important in maintaining protection of material that is on the web and made available to people in other countries.

Note that it is possible to register copyright in the USA and this is generally done merely for evidentiary purposes (i.e. so that you can prove you are the owner). An application form can be obtained from here and the application fee is about $45.

To inform people that your work is protected by copyright you should include a copyright notice somewhere on the document, This should contain the symbol © (or the word Copyright), the name of the owner of copyright or publisher to whom the copyright is assigned and the year the work was first created. For example: © University of Cape Town 2008.

The owner's name is recorded so that an interested party knows who to contact should they wish to negotiate a copyright license.

Moral rights

Moral rights are an additional form of protection for works protected by copyright. They protect the way in which your work or creation is used or attributed to you. These rights are personal to the creator of the work and cannot be transferred, although the composer/author can choose to waive them altogether.


For musical, literary or artistic works (other than photographs) protection is extended for the life of the author plus fifty years from the end of the year in which the author dies.

For sound recordings and published editions, the term is fifty years from the end of the year in which the recording or edition is published.