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South African Copyright Law

Written by Tom Mould, an under-graduate student of Law on 13 December 2013

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South Africa is deciding whether it should protect the intellectual property emanating from their country. Walt Disney’s Lion King is thought to be the most famous case of intellectual property theft known in South Africa. Disney made a hit by using the song ‘The Lion sleeps tonight’ by Soloman Linda known originally under the title of ‘Mbube’ and later covered by numerous artists under the title ‘Wimoweh’. However Solomon Lindadied penniless and couldn’t afford a headstone. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that he was finally recognised for the work with his Estate settling out of court for the sum of $1.6 million dollars; quite a large sum considering he was paid only 87 shillings at the time he recorded the song.

South Africa as a country wishes to protect its history and heritage from being taken by large corporations with little moral fibre. Items of specific importance like bowls, ear rings, headrests, pipes and weaponry are appearing more frequently in museums across the world.

The African National Congress (ANC) has proposed an amendment to the existing intellectual property laws, however there has been a lot of debate stating that the new proposed laws do not go far enough. In April of this year the Protection of Traditional Knowledge Bill was introduced, which has gained wide support from various lawyers, academics and official bodies. The ANC voted down the bill, which goes to show how slow the progress can be especially when politics comes into play.

This puts the traditional ways of South Africans at constant risk. A current example of this is the Ndebele tribe’s distinctive dolls which are being found in the western world and have been in production in China. Another example is the traditional lullabies which are being found in modern music of the local artists and also internationally as well.

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