Sharing copyrighted UCT materials online is a serious offence

05 May 2021 | Royston Pillay, Registrar

Dear students and colleagues

I am writing to alert you to a serious breach of the law that involves the illegal uploading of course materials, examination and test papers, lecture notes, slides and other documents, films or images that are termed “copyrighted works” belonging to the University of Cape Town (UCT). Any student or staff member who is found to be uploading copyrighted works without UCT’s authorisation is liable not only to internal disciplinary action, but also to possible criminal prosecution.

Copyright subsists in the copyrighted works. They constitute literary works as defined in the Copyright Act. This means that UCT is the owner, or licensee, of the copyright to these materials. These copyrighted works were specifically commissioned and/or created for UCT’s exclusive use while the respective authors were employed by UCT.

UCT makes such materials available to students within the context of specific courses and teaching programmes. This is part of every student’s privilege while studying at UCT. UCT’s copyright also prevents these materials from being taken out of context.

UCT’s copyright is upheld not only in South Africa, but also in other countries, such as the USA, the UK and members of the European Union, who all signed the international Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works.

As the copyright owner, or licensee, UCT has exclusive rights to the copyrighted works. This includes the right to reproduce, publish and make them available to the public (for instance, by uploading them). Anyone who does any of these activities to any part of the copyrighted works is breaking the law unless they have the written permission or licence from UCT. It is also an infringement of the Copyright Act to authorise such treatment of the copyrighted works.

Copyright violation is a serious crime

The South African Copyright Act (No. 98 of 1978) makes provision for criminal penalties in the form of a fine (of up to R5 000 per infringement) and/or imprisonment of up to three years for a first conviction. The maximum fine and/or imprisonment penalty for a second conviction is R10 000 and/or five years imprisonment. Under the Copyright Act, a court may award additional damages where there has been a flagrant breach of copyright.

UCT has internal disciplinary procedures to address copyright infringement. If there are any further uploaded documents, and/or if any student or staff member is found to be uploading copyrighted works without UCT’s authorisation, the university will be forced to take further steps.

UCT has reserved all rights in the copyrighted works and, as mentioned, we will take action against any infringement of these rights.


Royston Pillay

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