top of page

Copyright laws for event managers

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that copyright laws don’t apply to you as an event manager. Anyone involved in eventing or arranging functions will come face to face with copyright laws at some point, and if not personally, then speakers at your events will need to know about copyright laws in South Africa.

Has a speaker, an emcee or a session presenter at your conferences ever shown a short scene from a memorable movie? Or used and reprinted a nifty online model to predict industry outcomes? If so, that might have been a copyright violation. Assuming the liability falls solely on the speaker is not correct either. Copyright laws apply when presenters are showing the audience movies, videos, sound clips, songs and other audio-visual material during functions and events.

What is copyright? Copyright is a set of exclusive legal rights given to the author or creator of an original work to copy, distribute, perform and display the work in public. Anyone who wants to reuse the work publicly needs to obtain permission from the owner of the original work.

Copyright eligibility South Africa’s Copyright Act of 1978 defines nine classes of work that are eligible for copyright:

  • Literary works - including novels, poems, plays, film scripts, textbooks, articles, encyclopaedias, reports, speeches, etc.

  • Musical works - excluding words sung with the music

  • Artistic works - including paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, architectural works, works of craftsmanship, etc.

  • Cinematograph films - in any medium, including film, tape or digital data

  • Sound recordings - in any medium, but excluding film soundtracks

  • Broadcasts - signals transmitted by radio waves and intended for public reception

  • Programme - carrying signals - signals representing audio and/or video and transmitted via satellite

  • Published editions - particular typographical arrangements of literary or musical works

  • Computer programmes - instructions, in any medium, that direct the operation of a computer

South Africa’s Copyright Laws The Copyright Act of 1978 governs the right to use and distribute artistic and creative works in South Africa and copyright protection extends to a great variety of products. In addition, copyright has a long duration (longer than patent and design rights) and is automatically recognised in other countries that are members of the Berne Convention.

For a work to be eligible for copyright, it must be original, and it must have been written down or recorded in some way (except for broadcasts and programme-carrying signals, which must have been broadcast or transmitted, respectively). “Originality” requires the work to have been produced by the exercise of skill and effort of the author(s). As in all Berne Convention countries, copyright is automatic and does not require registration.

South Africa is a party to the Berne Convention and the TRIPS Agreement.

Who governs copyright laws in South Africa? The Copyright Act automatically protects works created by South Africans or in South Africa. It also permits the Minister of Trade and Industry to extend the same protection to works created in, or by residents of, other countries; such protection has been extended to all Berne Convention countries.

Copyright is automatic

Copyright protection is automatically granted to an author or creator of a work as soon as the work is created. Although the author or creator of a work does not have to register the work, by registering it they make the copyright more visible. Copyright also extends to unpublished work. If work is created by an employee, then the employer is the copyright holder.

How long does copyright last?

According to PublishSA, in every book, journal, periodical or magazine there exist two separate but interlinked copyrights:

Firstly, in the content, the literary work itself. Copyright in the work usually belongs to the author (unless he or she has assigned it to the publisher). In South Africa, the duration of copyright is the life of the author plus 50 years from the end of the year in which the author dies. When copyright expires, the work falls into the public domain, and may be freely used and exploited by anyone.

Secondly, in the published edition or typographical arrangement on the page. Copyright in the published edition belongs to the publisher. Copyright in the published edition lasts for 50 years from date of publication. So even when copyright in the literary work has expired, copyright in the published edition may still exist.

Fair use

Some associations mistakenly assume that using movies, short programmes, or scenes from movies during events falls under “fair use”, or that the copyright liability falls only on the party pushing the “play” button. “Fair use” is a defence presented in, and ultimately determined by, a court of law, meaning that assuming ahead of time that the exhibition will be exempt may not be the best course of action unless you plan to consult a copyright lawyer before you press “play”. If you’re unsure, consult a

copyright lawyer.

Sources for this article


bottom of page