There's been plenty of copyright stories in the news lately, revealing some very interesting issues, one of which is just how much ignorance there still is about copyright.


In the last few weeks, South African media has been buzzing for some time with the news of a major copyright dispute regarding the hit song Jerusalema. It seems that Kgaogelo "Master KG" Moagi and his entertainment company, Open Mic Productions, are being sued for copyright infringement. According to news reports, Jerusalema was created by two other people: Presley Lebogang "Biblos" Ledwaba and Ntimela Chris "Charmza the DJ" Chauke (apparently, you need to have a nickname to be in this story).

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that their clients "want their creative contributions to be recognised, and for their fair share of earnings generated to be allocated to them... the true originators and key creative contributors without whom the song would not even have existed have been cruelly cut out of the remuneration chain..."

So, it sounds very much like a case of contributors wanting recognition (possibly as co-owners of the copyright) and remuneration. We will be watching this case closely if it makes its way into court!

Johnny Depp

Have you Heard - Johnny Depp and real muso Jeff Beck have allegedly infringed copyright in a musical work. The musical work is a song titled Sad Motherf*****' Parade, and it's a track on an album that the pair have released called 18. The alleged infringement is the wholesale lifting of certain lines from a poem and song called Hobo Ben. Among the lines are these, which suggest that coincidental similarity is very unlikely:

"I'm raggedy, I know, but I have no stink"

"God bless the lady that'll buy me drink"

"What that funky motherf*** really needs, child is a bath."

The author of Hobo Ben is one Slim Wilson, although that's apparently an alias for a man who's self-described as a "cheat and pimp" and who served jail time for murder and armed robbery. The story is that while in prison, Wilson met with a folklorist who documented his poetry and toasts – this genre is described as a "comic form of black narrative folk poetry, akin to hobo balladry."

A university professor who has been consulted had this to say: "I've been publishing stuff like this for 50 years, and this is the first time anybody has just ripped something off and put his own name to it". A spokesperson for Depp and Beck has said that the matter is being reviewed and that "if appropriate additional copyright credits will be added to all forms of the album''


Copyright and tattoos is becoming quite an issue.

There's a "celebrity tattoo artist" and reality TV star who goes by the name of Kat Von D. She's now being sued by a photographer for copyright infringement. The claim is that in 2017, Kat Von D "inked" a tattoo that she copied from a photograph, a photo of jazz musician Miles Davis with his fingers on his lips, taken by a photographer called Jeffrey Sedlik.


Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although Kat Von D was not paid for her tattoo, she did share it on Instagram, where she has 900 000 followers. She denies the alleged infringement, claiming that her tattoo is a transformative work. A US professor of law suggests that if Kat Von D "ultimately put her own spin on it the question for the jury would be, did she do enough to change it?"

There's considerable interest in this matter because tattooing is big business. Some argue that a finding of copyright infringement will severely impact the tattooing "profession" as it will limit what tattoo artists can do. Another copyright lawyer not affiliated with the case is quoted as saying "This [case] could give pause to tattoo artists who are asked to ink third-party imagery on their clients".

An alternative approach to enforcement

Here's an idea – when next someone infringes your copyright, don't threaten them with lawsuits and damages, be nice rather and offer to educate them about copyright and the damage caused by infringement.

There's a photo stock agency called Dreamstime which has decided that the best way to deal with infringements is to try to educate the infringers about what copyright is, when it's infringed, and what the consequence are for both copyright owners and infringers. The agency believes that most infringements are accidental and that it's often simply a case of people not understanding copyright law and licences. The company is hoping that it can turn infringers into customers. Good luck to them!

Some last words on copyright

Copyright is a very important intellectual property right that protects a variety of works including written material, music, art, films and records. In most countries there's no need to register copyright, in fact there's often no provision for registration. Unlike other forms of intellectual property which are restricted to certain territories, copyright is international. The most important aspect of copyright is the right to control copying of the work, although there are other aspects too.

There's far too much ignorance about copyright. This may be understandable, given that it is quite nuanced, and often difficult to prove. If you believe your copyright has been infringed, make sure to speak to a copyright lawyer before racing to 'stick it' to the other side!

Reviewed by: Gaelyn Scott, Head of ENSafrica's IP department.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.