The curious case of Copyright in Digital Technologies

The digital world is a sanctuary of [social] media. [Social] Media is a public platform and covers a large market dependent on the web. In as much as some countries monitor and limit online posts, the digital platform remains open to many feeds. It accommodates social frantic, ideological and psychological debates and access to information to users, which we cannot erase in the current information era.

The quest for likes and shares and followers

One of the risks in this digital arrangement is the almost inexistent separation between personal and commercial posts/feeds because users profit from more likes/shares and followers. It can be difficult to confirm the identity of the original author unless he/she/it includes his/her/its identity.

Whether privately or state-owned, online consumers own accounts, for personal or commercial use. Digital platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. are some of them. All these are hosted on computerized programs.

A slight change, improvement or alteration in one aspect of the program will automatically change the use.

But this does not change the fundamental principles of copyright.

What does this mean?

It means that, if we are to limit the protection of literally works on digital platforms, we may frustrate innovations, creations and personal development. Hence the need to incorporate copyright laws in every platform where creators can store their works.

Steve Jobs said;

‘…If protection of Intellectual Property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get started.’

We will have to maintain Copyright principles while we embrace digital changes.

It also means that we will have to protect the rights to privacy and in that way, deal with its one adversary, freedom of expression.

The Digital era versus creativity

Snap a photo, caption it, share and you have become an author.

This is like a virtual phenomenon in the digital environment today. Suffice to say, Copyright has come face to face with the development of technologies. Original works that can be shared by many consumers will inevitably be stored digitally. The authors, therefore, will be entitled to copyright.

The best example in this category is the evolution of Applications (read, Apps).

In our previous articles on Copyright, we discovered that actual works not ideas are protected. The digital platforms, presently, are the easiest means through which we can infer Copyright production because the material posted or shared or stored on any platform is physical (i.e. can be seen).

When digital technologies bite

Rules governing copyright intend to protect authors from infringement and loss of revenue. But the digital platform, which avails creativity to a large following, can only survive on numbers.

Many authors of Apps literally depend on advanced technology to sell, produce, re-create and generate income from digital methods powered by the internet.

It appears that what the digital world cannot control due to its vast mechanism are ‘fake posts’. (See Citizen Journalism, libel, defamation and slander). Aside from that, it nearly has all information or, where it doesn’t, an available source ready to feed it. The source of information is therefore the author and the party entitled to Copyright.

The reason for Copyright in technology

Being a human right, Intellectual Property seems to broaden the stages where it unveils its intention: public knowledge or entertainment or participation. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, under Article 27 (1), it states that;

‘Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.’

Under Article 27 (2), it further confirms the need for protection of authors’ rights. It states that;

‘Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.’

In essence, these provisions open up the possibilities of promoting creativity (Copyright material) within the digital world.

Unfortunately, our economy may or may not have measured the magnitude of what this means. Since we use digital platforms created by other parties (natural or artificial persons), which are often from outside of Africa, the level of creativity we may develop will depend on the presence of original platforms (original authors) and one may argue that we could settle for neighbouring/related rights.

Copyright and Digital Licensing

This is a complex but achievable phenomenon which goes into other forms of Intellectual Property especially, patents (for formulas).

The digital technological advancements premise on computerized programs, without which they cannot function. These programs are written in codes. The codes have sources. The sources have creators.

Once the creators develop a source code, they allow the program to operate as they have commanded. This will be regarded a form of original work, capable of Copyrighting and the author/assignee can be issued with a license.

However, it comes with extra caution;

  1. Cornish & D. Llewelyn, in their book, ‘Intellectual Property: Patents, Copyright, Trademarks and Allied Rights (6th Edn), at page 807, note that;

‘Since the advent of the micro-computer, producers of software…have been determined to prevent imitations appearing on the mass market and to prevent down-line copying by legitimate purchasers. They turned copyright as the form of intellectual property most immediately adaptable to their purpose and have strove to establish, country by country, that the generation of a program is considered the creation of literary work.’

NB: ‘Imitations’ or ‘copying’ by the ‘mass market’ and ‘legitimate purchasers’ are important terms to decipher.

Just like in print, original works are protected from any form of alteration and copying from consumers whom the quotation calls ‘mass market’/’legitimate purchasers’ is infringement.

The quotation shows how much attention must be given to the use of original works in public domain.


When the Statute of Anne (1710) was first implemented in Great Britain to create some form of Copyright protection, there were no computers. Overtime, forms of storage of original works and copyright material evolved. From cassettes, to DVDs, to CDs, to flash disks, to Computers, etc., technological advancements have proved to us that more storage materials will emerge and hence, require constant revision to fit the trend.

In the present digital technology advancement and copyright protection, Programmers in the digital era own the Copyright to their program.

Consumers will definitely use the same programs to store their original works and the chain of protection of Intellectual Property will continue.

Warning: This article is for academic purposes, not giving legal advice/services. If you need the latter, consult an Intellectual Property Law expert/lawyer.


This article appears in our digital law newsletter, The Deuteronomy Vol 5, Issue 3 of May 19th, 2017

To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE

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