“Copyright protection exists from the moment a work is created in a fixed, tangible form of expression. The copyright immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author, or those deriving their rights through the author, can rightfully claim copyright”. Source: The Campus Guide to Copyright. Copyright is part of a group of intellectual property rights, which provide legal protection to creators of works such as literary works, computer programs and software, artistic works, musical works, cinematographic films, sound recordings, radio and television broadcasts.

Must business owners register copyright or does it simply exist?

Copyright exists automatically and does not have to be registered. However, the work must be original. This means that it must have been the product of the creator’s or author’s original skill and effort, and should not be copied from another source.

In what circumstance in Business does copyright become an issue?

Generally, the author (the creator of the work) is the first proprietor of the copyright. The company should therefore make sure that it arranges contractually to become the proprietor of the copyright in the works that it commissions. In addition, the author of the copyright should sign a document assigning the copyright to the company that pays for the commission.

There are exceptions to every rule.

This general rule is subject to a few exceptions, including:

  • Where the company commissions a consultant to take a photograph, to paint or draw a portrait, to make a gravure, a sound recording or a cinematograph film and pays (or agrees to pay) for it, and the work is made according to that commission, the company is the owner of the copyright.
  • If the external consultant is employed by a third party under a contract of service, the third party will be the owner of the copyright, and will therefore have to be the person who assigns it to the company.


If the company owns the copyright or uses the copyright work under license, there is no need to credit the consultant.

How long does copyright last?

Different periods of time apply:

  • Literary, musical and artistic works (other than photographs): 50 years from the end of the year in which the author of the work dies
  • Computer programs: 50 years from the year in which legitimate copies were first made available to the public
  • Published cinematographic films, sound recordings, radio and television broadcasts and other programme-carrying signals – 50 years from the end of the year in which the work was first published or broadcast.

Further research options:

  • For more detailed information go to Wits University Library Services Copyright information.
  • The Publishers Association of South Africa
  • Copyright in South Africa is governed by the Copyright Act No. 98 of 1978.