The sweat of a man’s brows, and the exsudations of a man’s brains, are as much a man’s own property, as the breeches upon his backside.1

Virtually every one of us will, at some time or another in our lives, create something – it might be a poem, a painting, a photograph, an essay, and even more demanding works like a software program, a film, a symphony composition, and so forth. When this happens, the ‘creator’ – called the ‘author’ in copyright terms – is the owner of the right to prevent it from being copied, i.e. reproduced. This, in short then, is ‘copyright’.

The Copyright Act 19782 sets out the conditions for the subsistence, ownership, duration, licencing, and so forth of copyright. It also provides remedies for infringement, and criminalises certain kinds of conduct. These offences all depend on the proprietor in question having “guilty knowledge” – in other words, that he is aware that copyright subsists in the work, and that what he is doing is an infringement of the copyright – or that the object he is dealing with is an infringement.

The Act falls under the authority of the Minister of Trade and Industry, but there is also a Copyright Tribunal which is administered by the Registrar of Copyright.3

  1. It is an offence to:
  1. If you have in your possession any storage medium, or version of a work, knowing that it is to be used for making infringing copies of the work, you commit an offence.5

  2. It is a criminal offence to cause a literary or musical work to be performed in public, knowing that copyright subsists in the work, and that the performance constitutes an infringement of the copyright.6

  3. If you cause a broadcast to be rebroadcast (or transmitted in a diffusion service) knowing that copyright subsists in the broadcast, and that such rebroadcast or transmission constitutes an infringement of the copyright, you commit a criminal offence.7

  4. Also, it is a crime to cause programme-carrying signals to be distributed by a distributor for whom they were not intended, knowing that copyright subsists in the signals and that such distribution constitutes an infringement of the copyright.8

  1. Laurence Sterne, Tristam Shandy Vol. III, ch. 34 p. 176, (1759). Apparently Sterne was attempting to give an exposition of the labour theory of the 17th Century philosopher John Locke – See Andreas Rahmatian ‘Copyright and Creativity : The Making of Property Rights in Creative Works’, (Edward Elgar Publishing) 2011. 

  2. As amended; the latest amendment was effected by Act 9 of 2002. 

  3. The address of the Registrar is The Dti campus (Block F – Entfutfukweni), 77 Meintjies Street, Sunnyside, Pretoria (tel: 0861 843 384) Fax No: 0861 843 888, email:, website:

  4. Section 27(1). 

  5. Section 27(2). 

  6. Section 27(3). 

  7. Section 27(4). 

  8. Section 27(5).