It has been an interesting two weeks – and filled with learning too. About a year ago I published an article online on my personal blog,* and in my hurry to find an image to fit and get on with my next task, I neglected to credit the source of the photograph. Although the photograph was supplied by a press release author, I would later learn that I had in fact use the photograph off a blogger’s site without even realising it.

After publishing the photograph and failing to credit it appropriately, a colleague contacted me with the allegation that I had contravened the Copyright Act. When colleagues repeated this allegation online, I realised that my knowledge of the law may not be up to scratch, and so I set about trying to find out more, so that I, and hopefully others can learn from this oversight.

I read up on the topic and learnt a few interesting things about the Copyright Law in South Africa. I would like to share it with you, because I suspect that many online publishers and bloggers may also be unaware of these facts – and what help would we be to each other if we didn’t share valuable information from mistakes that we ourselves have made.

Copyright Law in SA states that:

– An original creation such as text or a photograph does not have to be registered in order for copyright to vest in the creator. This happens by default as soon as the work is created.
– Googling photos is dangerous. Every photo on Google is copyrighted, which means that anyone who saves and publishes it violates someone else’s copyright.
– Professional photographers tend to watermark their photos and, therefore, we avoid using it. I have now learnt that we should treat all online photos the same way.
– The Copyright Act makes provision for the usage of copyrighted images in certain circumstances. Firstly, the copyright holder may give another person permission to publish his work, in which case publication will not be a copyright violation.
– Secondly, journalists may publish such photos in terms of the fair usage rule. This rule dictates that usage must be limited to a hard news context, limited according to necessity, that the copyright holder or author must be credited and that the re-publisher must at the very least attempt to get permission from the copyright holder.

I was surprised to note that copyright violation has been criminalised, and I apologise sincerely for instances where I had previously infringed on anybody’s copyright by mistake.

In light of the above, I conclude that it will be a good idea for all of us to be meticulous when crediting photos we have not been authorised to use. Sites like Unsplash, Pexel and Pixabay provide photos that do not infringe the copyright act. If you have not yet taken a look at these sites, do so today – I am loving Unsplash right now.

To those who were as unaware of the Copyright Act’s contents as I was, please feel free to share this post with anyone whom it may benefit or who could learn something they may not have known before. And – if in doubt, don’t use it. Happy Friday – and happy writing! HH

*Note that the error referred to in this blog featured in content I had published in my personal capacity. I perform freelance work for, among others, Caxton CTP, and would like to stress that, to my knowledge, I had not performed a similar error while compiling and publishing freelance work.

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