The South African Copyright Act has been instrumental in the growth of creative works in nearly a century. South Africa’s music story would not be complete without paying homage to it. 

Copyright laws in South Africa were launched as early as 1910, after the creation of the Union of South Africa (present day Republic of South Africa). The Act was amended in 1916 when Parliament enacted the Patents, Designs, Trademarks and Copyright Act 1916, which incorporated the British Imperial Copyright Act 1911 into South African law. In 1928 South Africa became a party to the Berne Convention in its own right.

South Africa having become a republic in 1961, Parliament enacted the Copyright Act of1965, which was still largely based on the British Copyright Act 1956. In 1978, Parliament replaced the Act with the Copyright Act of 1978, which (as amended) remains in force. The Act has been amended several times, most notably in 1992 to make computer programs a distinct class of protected work, and in 1997 to bring it into line with international agreements. 

The Copyright Act enables the right to control the use and distribution of artistic and creative works, in the Republic of South Africa. Given the nature of the works of artists and composers, the Copyright Act protects copying of works of artists and composers without permission, and their creative works. According to the Act, the author of an original copyright work can become the owner of copyright automatically created, provided that certain requirements are met.

The Act is automatically recognised in other countries that are members of the Berne Convention (currently more than 148 countries are members of the Berne Convention). Copyright is automatically conferred on a work that is eligible for copyright at the time when it is created, provided that certain requirements are met. The duration of copyright is relatively long and the term is different for different categories of works. For literary, musical or artistic works other than photographs, the term is the life of the author plus 50 years from the end of the year in which the author dies.  So copyright will remain with the artist for even 50 years after their death. 

In the case of sound recordings and published editions, the term is 50 years from the end of the year in which the recording or edition is first published. According to the Act, copyright infringement occurs when a person without the authorisation of the owner, does any of the acts reserved for the owner, for example by making a reproduction of the work. 

Indirect infringement can occur when a person without permission of the copyright owner, imports, sells, lets, by way of trade offers or exposes for sale or hire, or distributes for purposes of trade.  It can also happen if one permits a place of entertainment to be used for a public performance of a literary or musical work, where the performance constitutes an infringement of copyright. 

This means that the copyright owner can take legal action against any person who infringes copyright on their works. If infringement is established to have taken place, the copyright owner will be entitled to damages as compensation, as determined by a court of law. Over the years, there have been a number of copyright infringement cases across the world. The one thing to always keep in mind is to give credit to the original owner of the artistic work.

A popular copyright infringement case is the Vanilla Ice vs. David Bowie/Freddie Mercury Case, where Vanilla Ice, in his 1991 hit, Ice Ice Baby, sampled the song Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen.  At first Vanilla Ice denied it. While facing a lawsuit by the duo, Vanilla Ice retracted the statement saying it was “a joke”, and confessed to sampling the work. 

The case was settled privately out of court with Ice paying an undisclosed sum of money and crediting Bowie/Queen on the track. Unfortunately that was the last major hit by Ice. Keep this in mind, copyright laws are there for a reason. Don’t use other people’s creative work, as copyright infringement cases can get very costly. Make licensing your friend, and get the relevant approvals to use the works of others.

Sources: South African Institute of Intellectual Property Law (SAIIPL); CIPRO;