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Copyright Guidelines for Staff & Students of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (WITS): Copyright Term of Protection

This LibGuide provides definitions, legislation and procedures for copyright clearance for teaching and research purposes.

Copyright Term

Subject to exceptions (depending on the category of work), works in South Africa are protected for the lifetime of the author plus 50 years from the end of the year in which the author dies. 

Publishers have copyright in published editions (i.e. the edited typeface, format, etc) for 50 years from the end of the year in which the edition is first published (even if the original material is no longer in copyright (e.g. a new edition of a Shakespeare play).


South Africa adopted the minimum required term of protection provided in the Berne Convention and TRIPS Agreements. Many developed countries have extended this period by 20 years. Since developing countries are net importers of intellectual property, it is not in their interests to extend this period.  Some African countries have extended this period by 20 years, either via the US Free Trade Agreement, e.g. Morocco, or via pressure from rightsholders believing that an extended period would benefit developing countries.  Empirical evidence in 8 African countries in the African Copyright and Access to Knowledge Project (ACA2K)  showed that extension of copyright term was not beneficial to developing and least developed countries and recommended that the term be reduced back to 50 years after the author's death.