Why is copyright important?


Copyright protects the owner of intellectual property against having his or her works copied, stored, distributed, adapted, performed, or displayed without their permission. This allows the owner to reasonably expect to be financially rewarded for his or her creation. In South Africa this is governed by the Copyright Act No. 98 of 1978.

Copyright laws differ from country to country, however most of the basic concepts still apply internationally. Whether it is a moving image, a still picture, words, music or software, be careful that you don't contravene any copyright laws. A common misconception is that if information if published to the World Wide Web it is exempt from copyright or ownership issues. This is not true. Just because you found the item on a website - even if it didn't display a copyright logo - that doesn't mean that it is free from copyright restrictions. When in doubt, contact the owner of the work and ask for express permission to use the item.

Whether you buy a CD or DVD or download paid-for movies and songs, as soon as you make copies or share the content from another device, you are breaking the law and committing piracy.

Likewise, when you buy software you are purchasing a licence to use that software – you do not become the owner of the software. In other words, you may use the software, but you may not copy or distribute it in any way.

The UCT policy and rules on email and Internet use is very clear on this issue: you may not pirate software or infringe on the intellectual rights of digital content. In South Africa, if you disregard copyright laws, in terms of the Copyright Act, you could be fined or imprisoned if found guilty.

Here are some terms that you may come across when discussing copyright issues:


The concept of "free-use" allows you to make one copy of software for your own personal use or for backup purposes. It does not entitle you to distribute that content.

"copy left"

Just as there are groups of people who argue that copyright laws should be enforced, there are groups of people who argue against this. They encourage the use of open source software, free for use by anyone who needs to use it. They often use the term "copyleft" as the opposite of copyright.


Shareware is software that doesn't have any copyright protection. The developers leave it up to you to decide whether it is worthwhile contributing to the cost of developing the software. If you like the software and use it regularly, they encourage you to pay a registration fee. This gives the developers an income from the product which allows them to continue developing it or creating new software.

Act responsibly and don't pirate software, games, movies or music. UCT respects copyright.