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Copyright and Related Issues: Who Owns Copyright?

This Libguide is a useful guide on international, regional and South African copyright and related issues.


The author of a work is first holder of copyright. This person is responsible for the creation of the material embodiment of the work. This person may not necessarily be the person who conceived the idea which gave rise to, or which is embodied in, the material work.

To claim ownership, application of independent intellectual effort or skill is necessary by the author. If a person merely reduces the work into a material form in a purely mechanical way, then this person would not be the author, but merely an agent or amanuensis of the author. "

(Reference: Dean. O. Handbook of SA Copyright Law, pg. 1-23)

Joint Authors/Co-Authors

Where two or more persons are engaged in the creation of a work in a material form, they can be joint authors and co-owners of the copyright that work.


Whereas newspapers may own copyright in articles written by their full-time reporters/journalists, this is seldom the case with freelancers, unless they are assigned the rights.


Copyright in photographs is held by the person who is responsible for the composition of the photograph, and not necessarily the person who physically presses the camera button.


Copyright is owned by the first broadcaster.

Published Editions

The published edition is the first print by whatever process of a particular typographical arrangement of a literary or musical work.

The publisher owns copyright.

Artistic Works

Copyright in artistic works generally belong to the artists and not to the newspaper (unless assigned).

Computer Programs

The copyright owner is the person who exercised control over the making of the program.

Computer-Generated Works

Copyright in a literary or artistic work, which has been computer-generated, is held by the person who undertakes the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work.   (Reference: Dr. O. Dean’s notes given at DALRO Blanket Licence workshop on 21.2.2003)

Sound recordings and Cinematographic Films:

The person who makes the arrangements for the making of the recording or film owns copyright.

Programme-Carrying Signals

Copyright is owned by the first person to emit the signal to a  satellite