“Great minds don’t think alike. If they did, the Patent Office would only have about fifty inventions.” – Scott Adams


  1. Copyright is the right to exclude others from copying or making an adaptation of one’s copyrighted work. With the exception of cinematographic films, copyright is not a registrable right in South Africa, but instead is a right that subsists automatically once (i) an original work is created, which (ii) is reduced to a material form.  Copyright in South Africa is governed by the Copyright Act 98 of 1978.
  2. Copyright may vest in the following works –
      • Artistic works – e.g. sculptures, paintings, drawings (including technical / engineering drawings), photographs, engravings, architectural works
      • Literary works – e.g. novels and poems, handbooks, memorandums and reports, letters, tables and compilations
      • Musical works
      • Computer programs and software
      • Radio and television broadcasts
      • Cinematographic films
  3. Reverse engineering: Section 15(3A) of the Copyright Act provides as follows: “The copyright in an artistic work of which three-dimensional reproductions were made available to the public, whether inside or outside of the Republic, by or with the consent of the copyright owner, shall not be infringed if any person who, without the consent of the copyright owner, makes or makes available to the public three-dimensional reproductions or adaptations of the authorized reproductions, provided that the authorized reproductions primarily have a utilitarian purpose and are made by an industrial process.” This provision permits reverse engineering subject to certain conditions, and in the absence of a patent or design registration to protect the three-dimensional reproduction.  For example, where a spare part is manufactured from an engineering drawing and sold to the public by the owner of the drawing, then manufacturing a copy from that spare part by a third party will not infringe copyright in the engineering drawing from which the first authorized reproduction was made.
  4. The Copyright Act provides for general exceptions to the protection of literary and musical works to allow for fair dealings with the works.  So, for example, copyright of a literary or musical work will not be infringed if the work is used for:
      • the purposes of research or private study
      • personal or private use of the person using the work
      • the purposes of criticism or review of that work or of another work
      • the purpose of reporting current events in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical, or by means of broadcasting or in a cinematography film.
  5. South Africa is a member of the Berne Convention.

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