Whenever someone creates a piece of original work based on their own idea, they are automatically granted copyright on that creation. This includes work produced by authors, musicians, computer programmers, artists etc.

Once someone has taken their idea and turned it into material form, they will immediately own the copyright on their work without having to register it or inform someone else, the only exception to this is cinematograph films, which can be registered. After a musician has written and recorded a song, for instance, it would have automatically become copyrighted with the musician being the copyright owner. Things that are part of the public domain do not fall under copyright. A public speech by a politician or public lecture by an author falls within the public domain so would not have copyright. A newspaper journalist, for example, would be able to reproduce and quote from a public lecture without the speaker’s permission.

What if there was more than one person involved?

The person who has copyright ownership over a product differs for the type of creation. In the case of a literary work, such as a novel, it would be the person who first created the work, the author. However, if it is a film, the person who made all the arrangements of the film, such as the producer, would own the copyright, and not the actors and actresses. If a person created something under the proprietorship of someone else or a business, then the copyright belongs to that person or entity, not the creator.

Who will protect my copyrighted work?

All countries who have signed the Berne Convention will automatically protect the copyright of any original work that someone produces. That means if you create a painting here in South Africa, it will still be copyright protected in another country, such as America, that’s part of the Berne Convention.

Has someone violated my copyright?

If another person has made photocopies of your work for themselves only, then it’s not a copyright infringement. As mentioned earlier, recording, copying or reproducing a public speech is also not a copyright infringement. In the academic world, it’s common for people to use each other’s material or research. If the original author and their work is properly acknowledged by being cited, then no infringement has happened. However, if the original work has not been properly cited, it would be considered a serious copyright infringement, or plagiarism.

So when do I know if someone has infringed on my copyright? If another person has used or reproduced your original work to share with others for profit, without your permission, then it’s a copyright infringement. Taking another person’s song and selling it online without paying royalties or informing them, for instance, would be a serious copyright infringement. Another example is if someone takes the literary or academic work of the original author, and puts their own name to it, making it seem as if they were the original author.

What is the duration of copyright?

Copyright doesn’t last forever. However, they do last for an exceptionally long time. Copyright lifespans also differ depending on the work produced. Copyright on literary work lasts for 50 years after the death of the author. Copyright over films lasts for 50 years after the date the film was first shown. Computer programs have a copyright that lasts for 50 years after the first copies of the program were made available.

In short, if you have created something original, such as a song or painting, you don’t have to figure out how to protect it. The law automatically protects you as the original creator of your work. If someone does try copy your work without your permission, you don’t need to worry. Your claim on your song, book, painting, program etc. was set the moment you created it.


This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)


Owning a business requires careful succession planning and is part of your estate planning as you have to determine who will succeed you, or who will purchase your shares, or who will be entitled to the income after your death. The future ownership of your business is at stake.


A partnership automatically dissolves upon the death of a partner and the remaining partners will then have to dissolve it and divide the assets amongst them.

In the case of a company the shareholders may agree that:

  1. The remaining shareholders have a right of first refusal to purchase the deceased shareholder’s shareholding, as opposed to dealing with it in a will.
  2. The future of ownership of shares can be regulated by a written agreement between shareholders that is referred to as a “buy and sell” agreement and has an influence at the death of a partner or shareholder.
  3. The buy and sell agreement compels the executor of the deceased to offer the shares at a pre-determined price, and life policies between shareholders normally cover the purchase price.
  4. The remaining shareholders are the beneficiaries of the policy on the life of the deceased and use it to purchase the shares, normally pro rata to the shares they already own.
  5. Buy and sell policies fall outside the deceased estate and are not subject to estate duty provided that three requirements are met:
  • None of the premiums should have been paid by the deceased;
  • The shareholder relationship must have existed at the time of death;
  • A written agreement must exist.

…..6. When the skill and knowledge of a partner is essential for the survival of the business, “key man insurance” can be taken out on the life of such a partner or shareholder. The premiums are paid by the business and the benefit is paid to the business to prevent financial loss or to appoint and train a replacement.

Sole Proprietor

In the case of a “sole proprietor”, succession planning is dealt with in the Last Will and Testament.

  1. All the value of the business vests in the deceased estate.
  2. Planning is essential as the business terminates at death, although the executor may sell it as a going concern.
  3. It is a good idea to grant a right of first refusal to an associate, who can purchase the business and intellectual capital at the time of the death.
  4. A life policy can provide for cover on the life of the owner, with the associate being the beneficiary, and the proceeds at time of the death utilised to purchase the business.
  5. It deserves no debate that planning increases the benefit for the estate as opposed to closing the business down, where the assets will be worth far less.

Continued succession planning must be part of your business strategy to ensure your hard work benefits the right people.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)