Protecting intellectual property

One would like to think that in today’s ‘knowledge society” the plethora of information available, in a vast array of formats, would either be in the public domain or at least easily accessible to teachers, researchers, literacy trainers, librarians and other users of information. Unfortunately, this is not the case as copyright laws and technological protection measures determine what may or may not be accessed or reproduced.

What is copyright?

It is a category of intellectual property and a statutory monopoly given to authors and creators (known as rights owners) to control certain activities relating to the use and dissemination of their original works (including literary, musical and artistic works, cinematography films, sound recordings, published editions and computer programs). It provides rights owners with an incentive to create works and benefit financially from them.

What laws govern copyright in South Africa?

South Africa has a Copyright Act No 98 of 1978 (as amended). It is also a signatory to various inter­national agreements and is therefore obliged to give recognition and protection to copyrighted works of authors from signatory countries.

In general, these copyright laws are restrictive towards libraries, education facilities and persons with sensory disabilities. They do not include legal flexibilities (known as limitations and exceptions), which are allowed in international copyright agreements and which would benefit development.

How long are works protected by copyright?

Subject to exceptions, copyright in South Africa endures for the lifetime of the author, plus 50 years. Thereafter, works go into the public domain and may be used and reproduced freely.

May teachers copy for research and teaching purposes?

Yes, indeed. There is a great deal of free information (that is in the public domain or not protected by copyright) in the print and electronic environments. By doing an internet search on Google or any other search engine, hundreds of thousands of items can be found under ‘free books”, ‘free journals”, ‘free images”, ‘free photographs”, ‘free graphs” and ‘free posters”.

Also, ‘Fair Dealing”, in Section 12 of the Copyright Act, allows anyone to make a reasonable portion of a work available (with proper acknowledgement), for the following purposes, without having to apply for copyright permission:

l for research or private study, l for personal or private use, l for criticism or review, l for reporting current events (such as in a newspaper or broadcast), l for using the work for judicial proceedings, or for a report of such proceedings, l for quotation, l or ‘by way of illustration” for teaching purposes (such as placing an extract of a work on an overhead projector or in a PowerPoint presentation, to highlight aspects of a lecture or training session).

In terms of Section 13 (Copyright Regulations), a teacher may give a number of separate handouts to learners in a classroom situation without having to get permission. The copies, however, may not be included in compilations (such as study or course packs) or handed out with other copyrighted material.

May a librarian make copies for teachers or library users?

A librarian may make a single copy of a reasonable portion of a work for a teacher or other library user, as long as it is for research or private use. A librarian may also obtain a ‘fair dealing” copy for a teacher or library user via interlibrary loans. However, they may not make multiple copies for a teacher or other library users.

What are some examples of copyright infringement?

Without prior copyright permission, it is illegal to:

l copy a whole book or journal, or major portion of a book or journal (including an out-of-print book), l copy sheet music, l copy commercial audiotapes, videos, CDs, DVDs, films or other original works, l translate, adapt, modify or convert material into alternative formats (even for persons with sensory disabilities), l make copies, beyond the amounts permitted in the Copyright Regulations, as mentioned above, l scan, digitise or place material on the web, where permission is specifically required, l download multiple copies of material from electronic databases or the internet, where permission is specifically required, l play music or perform a musical for a public audience, l perform a play or drama, or show a video, film or DVD to a public audience, if not specifically allowed for educational purposes, l create, replace or substitute anthologies, compilations or collective works, l make copies of, or from, works intended to be ephemeral, including workbooks, exercises, standardised tests, test booklets and answer sheets, or similar ephemeral material, l make copies to substitute for the purchase of books, publishers’ reprints or periodicals, l leave copies of copyrighted works for learners to copy from, or l make a backup copy of a computer program or an authorised copy, other than for personal or private purposes.

Infringement has a direct financial impact on rights owners, and ultimately forces up prices. It can also result in disciplinary and legal action against copyright infringers.

What is plagiarism and how does it relate to copyright?

Plagiarism is the improper use of, or failure in attributing, other people’s writings or ideas (that is, their intellectual property). A plagiarist is a ‘word thief or cheat” who presents someone else’s work as their own and takes credit for it, instead of giving proper acknowledgement.

Plagiarism undermines the rights of honest students, it denigrates grades, degrees and educational institutions, and it affects the moral rights of authors in terms of copyright law. Moral rights protect the personality and reputation of authors, and are not transferable. This is to ensure that they are acknowledged as the author, and to protect their works from distortion, mutilation or modification without consent.

The way to eradicate copyright infringement and plagiarism in educational institutions is to teach learners to respect the intellectual property of others, and to be aware of their own intellectual property rights when creating their own works. They should know how to reference and acknowledge properly, and should produce their own work instead of ‘piggy backing” on the intellectual property of others.

Denise Rosemary Nicholson, author of Are You Copyright Correct, is the copyright services librarian at Wits University

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


‘Frustrated’ police resort to force

Regulation uncertainty leaves slap-happy police and soldiers to decide when people should or shouldn’t be allowed on the streets

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders