Copyright in music

Is music eligible for copyright protection?

Music is protected under the Copyright Act as a musical work provided:

  • it is written in music notation or recorded on tape or fixed in some other form.
  • it is original, i.e., has not been copied from other musical work
  • the writer is: either a citizen/resident in a country signatory to the Berne Convention, or the work is made or first published in a Berne Convention country.

The words which are to be spoken or sung with the music are eligible for separate copyright protection as a literary work provided they meet the above criteria. A recording of music (with or without words) attracts its own copyright protection as a sound recording.

Precautionary measures

It is advisable to preserve evidence that your work was in existence at a certain date. This may be useful for evidential purposes in case of infringement in order to prove that your work existed before the allegedly infringing work was written.

Note: it will still be necessary to prove that the composer of the offending work heard or had access to your work in order to prove that your copyright has been infringed!

How to let people know that you believe your music is protected by copyright

Date and sign

Date and sign (with your own signature) the bottom of each page or document in hard copy at the end of the work. If the work is in electronic format, provide your name and date of creation at the beginning of your code.

Copyright legend

In addition, include a copyright notice in a prominent position on the original and every copy of the work. For example: © 2008. John Doe. All rights reserved.

Certification or verification

Have the statement on your stamp verified by an independent third party (eg. an attorney or bank manager) or attach an affidavit to the work. Then lodge a copy of the work (on paper, tape or audio recording) with your bank or solicitor and obtain a dated receipt.

Disclaimer: The content of this article may not be construed as legal advice.


Frederick Mostert & Don MacRobert. From Edison to iPod. 2007 Dorling Kindersley.
Adam & Adams South Africa. Copyright. 2003.