Copyright law protects:

  • copyright in artistic works (e.g. paintings, drawings, sculptures);
  • copyright in literary works (e.g. books);
  • copyright in musical works (e.g. songs);
  • copyright in cinematograph films (e.g. reality tv shows); and
  • copyright in computer programs.

Once you develop a copyrightable work, it is automatically protected in South Africa and other worldwide without registration.

The problem is that copyright protects the work itself and not the idea behind the work. For example, the producers of SURVIVOR reality show can protect the name SURVIVOR by registering a trademark, and once a SURVIVOR episode has been filmed, copyright prevents others from making a copy of that filmed episode. However, nothing protects the idea behind SURVIVOR. This means that anyone can create their own reality show based on the same idea, provided that they don’t use a name that is confusingly similar to SURVIVOR. And, once your ISLAND KNOCK-OUT show has been filmed, you will enjoy copyright in that episode of ISLAND KNOCK-OUT. So, no-one else, even the producer of SURVIVOR may not copy that filmed episode of ISLAND KNOCK-OUT.

This is why FACEBOOK could copy the MYSPACE social networking idea, call it FACEBOOK and knock MYSPACE out of the market.

However copyright is not the only form of intellectual property protection available:

  • if your idea includes a new feature, that new feature may be protected by filing a patent registration;
  • if your new product has a new shape, the new shape may be protected by filing a design registration; and
  • if you have created a new brand, e.g. “Apple”, your brand may be protected by filing a trademark registration.

Also, if you have an idea for a reality show and wish to disclose it to MNET, by making MNET sign a confidentiality undertaking, you can inhibit unauthorised use of your “secret information”. But, the courts will only enforce the undertaking if the information is in fact “confidential / secret”.

Also see SuperNDA for watertight tailored NDAs.

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