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5 Tips to Avoid Copyright Infringement Online

In Zimbabwe, copyright exists without registration provided that the right exists within the provisions of the Copyright and Neighboring Rights Act [Chapter 26:05] (the Act). Once it is established that the work concerned falls within the parameters of copyright protection, the copyright owner does not need to take a further step.

Works which are eligible for copyright protection include software; films and photographs; sound recordings, musical compositions and poems; paintings and sketches; technical drawings and maps.

The Act provides copyright protection for the author of a work provided that the author is a “qualified person”. In terms of section 11(1)(a) of the Act, a work  that is eligible in terms of the Act shall qualify for copyright protection if the work’s author is a citizen of Zimbabwe or a designated country.

Persons who are not citizens of Zimbabwe may therefore enforce their copyright provided that they are a citizen of  any member of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Copyright Works or any member of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property (TRIPS Agreement).

A commonly held misconception is that works which have been published on the internet are not protected by copyright. As a result, businesses tend to take a casual approach in their use of works which they find online.

The fact that works are freely available on the internet does not mean that they are free to copy, adapt and share. Treat works which have been published in electronic format in the same manner as you would handle those reduced to a tangible format as they are subject to the same legal principles.

It is essential to have safeguards in place to ensure that you do not unintentionally infringe on an author’s copyright.

1. Always assume that the work is copyrighted.

Taking a strict approach to your use of works found online may be cumbersome but will assist you in avoiding copyright infringement. Do not assume that because a work is freely downloadable then it is free to use.

2. Do not copy, share or alter without seeking permission.

The first step in obtaining permission to use a copyrighted work is to identify the author of the work for purposes of contacting them to discuss the use of their work. It is advisable to put in writing any agreement reached regarding any fees payable and the purpose for which the work shall be used.

3. Review and retain licensing agreements.

Works obtained online through stock agencies (for example, Getty Images for stock photography) are subject to licence agreements. Take care to review these agreements and keep copies in your records as they contain the terms on which you are purchasing the licence and the applicable restrictions.

4. Have an IP policy for your business.

An intellectual property (IP) policy is a set of guidelines which provides team leaders and employees with the principles applicable in dealing with IP that belongs to the business and to the third parties. An IP policy sets a uniform standard and is an effective means of protecting against unintentional infringement.

5. Talk to your lawyer.

Copyright is a complex area of intellectual property law and failure to understand what it is and how it works may lead to serious legal consequences. Seek legal advice on how to prevent copyright infringement and ensure that your business complies with the law.

This article has been provided for informational purposes only. For legal advice, contact our Intellectual Property team.