How do I copyright an idea?
You cannot copyright an “idea” in South Africa or elsewhere.
Copyright does not arise when you have the “idea”. You must first reduce that “idea” to a “material form” (e.g. write it down, draw it, record it), and it is that material form (otherwise known as a “work”) that is protected by copyright.
Copyright only prevents others from copying or reproducing the “work” and not the “idea” embodied within the work. To explain:
If I wanted to create a fax directory, I could take the telephone directory, phone all the people in that directory starting at A and ending at Z, and ask them for their fax number. Copyright would prevent others from copying my directory / “work”, but I could not prevent others from re-creating a fax directory following the same steps that I took (i.e. calling everyone in the telephone directory). Even if they end up with a fax directory that is identical to mine, they did not copy my work. And, my “idea” of creating a fax directory cannot be patented.
There is no such thing as copyright registration in South Africa. Copyright arises automatically and is free. It need not be registered. One only adds the “(c)” symbol, “owner’s name” and “date” for evidentiary purposes. In the US, one can register copyright, but again, this is only for evidentiary purposes.
To protect an idea, one must register a patent – see the patent section on this website. But most works that are copyrightable are not patentable, e.g. a musical score, a script for a tv show, a website, an idea for a reality show, a business method (see more examples). The best way to protect these ideas is by way of copyright and confidentiality undertakings. But, remember that confidentiality undertakings are only enforceable for as long as the “confidential information” remains secret. As soon as you air the first episode of your tv show, the general “storyline” behind it seldom remains confidential.
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