I paid for it, so it’s mine: ownership of apps in South Africa

Apps became the answer to almost every task that we want completed. If the app is not available, we very often make a plan to get it. Even if it means that we need to pay someone to develop it.

So, who owns the copyright?

The South African Copyright Act no. 98 of 1978 clearly states that the owner of a computer program the person is who exercised control over the making of the computer program. An app is included in the definition of a computer program. This means that, although you paid an app developer to develop an app for you, in terms of South African Copyright Law, the coding of the app, and therefore the app, belongs to the person who was in charge of the coding of the app. The developer will by operation of law be the owner of the copyright. This is because in South Africa, copyright can only be registered for cinematograph films, not for an app’s coding or any other works eligible for copyright.

This determination is often the cause of tears and frustration! An entrepreneur wants to sell a million-bucks app, just to find out that it was never theirs to sell.

How can the entrepreneur become the owner?

Ownership of copyright can only be transferred in writing by virtue of an assignment of copyright agreement. It is therefore advisable that when an enthusiastic entrepreneur engages with a developer, that a development agreement should be entered into with the developer. The development agreement should also have an assignment of copyright clause included. This clause assigns all copyright, including the coding, to the entrepreneur. Then only will the entrepreneur be the owner of the app and be entitled to go bonkers with it, as prescribed in the Act.

Rather be safe than sorry. Make them sign the dotted line.