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InfoWise is an information literacy programme developed by Nelson Mandela University Library and Information Services.


What is copyright?

  • All content published online is protected under copyright law, regardless of it having the copyright symbol on the page.
  • Copyright is a legal concept that gives the creators of intellectual property (IP) the right to assert ownership over the things that they create and receive compensation for their use.
  • The works covered include anything from “books, music, paintings, sculpture and films, to computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps and technical drawings.
  •  Copyright basically applies to any “creative” work and prevents other people taking an individual’s IP and using it without their permission (whether the intention is to make money from it or not).

So make sure that you use material created by other people according to copyright laws. 


Copyright in South Africa

The South African Copyright Act 98 of 1978, as amended, governs all aspects of copyright in South Africa. It lays out the rules for what is protected, what it is protected from and how long it is protected for.

Copyright is territorial. This means that the rights that are protected, the method of protection and the period of protection differ from country to country. However, the principle of copyright protection is common to all the nations which are signatories to the Berne Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention.

These nations (of which South Africa is one) are obliged to incorporate certain basic principles in their national laws and are bound to offer reciprocal treatment to works that come from other nations observing the Berne Convention.

Source: DALRO. Understanding copyright.


What may I photocopy?

The South African Copyright Act sets out general exceptions from the protection of literary works.The fair dealing section allows a user to copy, for their own study or research or private use, as much of the work as they need to meet their reasonable needs, without seeking permission from the copyright owner or paying compensation.


Is it correct that as long as I photocopy 10% or less of a published work, this is permitted? 

No, it’s not correct. The Copyright Act says nothing about ‘10%’ or about any other percentage. The test for fair dealing is qualitative as well as quantitative, but it is clear that it must be for your own use. So, multiple copies are outside of fair dealing.

Fair use is based on:

  • The purpose and character of the use
  • The nature of the copyrighted work
  • The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the whole
  • The effect of the use on the potential market for the work

Remember: If your copy deprives the rightsholder of income, then it's not fair, and you can't regard it as fair dealing.

Source: DALRO. Understanding copyright.

Duration of Copyright

In South Africa, copyright protection in literary, musical and artistic works lasts for the duration of the life of an author and 50 years after the author’s death. In the case of works of joint or multiple authorship, protection continues until 50 years after the death of the longest surviving author.

If the work has not been published before the author dies the term of copyright continues to subsist for 50 years after the end of the year in which publication does take place. If publication never takes place, the duration of copyright is perpetual.

In many other countries, the countries of the European Union, for instance, and the United States, the duration of copyright is 70 years after the death of the author.

Source: DALRO. Understanding copyright.

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