What is Copyright?

Unlike patents, designs and trade marks, most countries, including Malaysia, view copyright as an unregistered right which protects a range of original materials such as literary, musical and artistic work, as well as other subject matter such as films, sound recordings and broadcasts. Computer programmes have recently been included in the definition of ‘literary work’.  For example, in a research-based organisation, literary works include

  • books, lab notebooks, pamphlets, manuscripts and other writings;
  • essays and articles;
  • letters, reports and memoranda;
  • lectures, addresses and other works of the same nature;
  • tables and compilations whether or not expressed in words, figures or symbols, and whether or not in a visible form; and
  • computer programmes.

Copyrights will subsist in such work immediately upon their creation.

Benefits of Copyright

The creator or the author of the work is entitled to copyright protection, although there are exceptions recognised by national laws. For instance, when an author who is employed for the purpose of creating work does so, his employer is, in the absence of a contrary agreement, deemed the owner of the copyright to that work. Similarly, this applies to commissioned work.The basic purpose of copyright is to allow creators to gain economic rewards for their efforts, and to protect them from a loss of revenue as a result of unauthorised copying.  

In most countries including Malaysia, the owner of a copyright is given the exclusive right to control the following:

  • Reproduction in any material form
  • Communication to the public
  • Performance, showing or playing to the public
  • Distribution of copies to the public by sale or other transfers of ownership
  • Commercial rental of the work to the public 

Not only may the owner of a copyright sue for infringement under the copyright law, but it is also illegal for anyone to violate any of these rights.  The term of the copyright protection is generally for the life of the author, with an additional 50 years after his death. However, lesser periods apply for films, sound recordings and broadcasts.

Copyright FAQs

Can I copyright names, titles, slogans?

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. These may be protected as trade marks under the Trade Marks laws, provided they are registered, and under common law, if the mark is unregistered.

Can I copyright my Internet Domain names?

Copyright laws do not protect domain names.  You may, however, protect your domain name under Trade Mark laws.

Can a database be protected?

Yes, databases may receive copyright protection for the selection and arrangement of the contents. In addition, a database right may exist in a database. This is an automatic right, and it protects databases against the unauthorised extraction and reuse of the contents of the database.  Database rights last for 15 years from the making. However, if published during this time, then the term is 15 years from publication.

Do I need to register my Copyright?

Unlike the US and Canada, most other countries including Malaysia do not offer any kind of copyright registration system since the creation of an original work automatically entitles you to a copyright. 

What is the duration of the Copyright protection?

This varies according to the nature of the work, and whether or not it has been published. Generally, it is for the lifetime of the author, and extending to 50 years after his death.

What is not protected by Copyright?

Copyright protection extends only to expressions. Therefore, ideas, procedures, methods of operation, or mathematical concepts as such are not protected. Neither are most titles, names, catch phrases and other short-word combinations.

What is Copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement is the unlawful use of the copyrighted materials.

Must I seek the owner’s permission before I make copies of the work?

Although making copies of copyright material can infringe exclusive rights, a certain amount of copying is permissible under the fair dealing provisions of the Copyright laws.

What is fair dealing?

It is not an infringement of copyright if the copying of copyrighted materials is for purposes of non-profit research, private study, criticism, review, or the reporting of current events.

Who may sue for Copyright infringement?

Depending on the case, infringement of copyright may be acted upon by the first owner, the assignee, or the exclusive licensee of the copyrighted materials.

Who owns the Copyright?

Generally, the owner of the copyright is

  • the creator of the work; or
  • the employer, if the work was created in the course of employment (unless there is an agreement to the contrary); or 
  • the person who commissions a
  • some other party, if the original owner has transferred his or her rights by way of an assignment testamentary disposition or by operation of law, in which case the assignee shall be the owner. work for valuable consideration (unless there is an agreement to the contrary);or

Is Copyright transferable?

Transfer of ownership of the copyright from one party to another may be by an assignment, testamentary disposition, or by operation of law.

Do I need to use the copyright symbol or mark ‘Copyright’ on my work?

Although not necessary, marking it is useful, as it serves as a general reminder to everyone that the work is protected by a copyright.

What does the symbol ‘C’ denote?

The symbol is used to warn others against copying a particular work. The copyright symbol “C” is usually followed by the name of the author, along with the date.  Although the law does not require the use of the copyright symbol, it is nevertheless advisable to use it, particularly in technical drawings, designs, and computer programmes. This serves to draw the attention of others to the copyright in place.

Can I copyright my ideas?

A copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something. You may express your ideas in writing or drawings and claim copyright in your writing or drawings.  If your ideas were elaborated by someone else who then expressed it in writing or drawings, that person can claim and will derive copyright to those works.  Remember, a copyright will protect the expression of the idea but not the idea itself.


According to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, literary and artistic works are protected without any formalities, which mean that protection does not depend on compliance with any formalities, such as registration or deposit of copies in the countries party to that Convention.  Be that as it may, there are some countries whose national laws allow for registration of such works for the purposes of, for example, identifying and distinguishing titles of works.

Works Not Eligible for Copyright Protection

For a work to enjoy copyright protection, it must be an original creation, whether it is in the literary, scientific or artistic domain. Unlike the other branches of the Intellectual Property law, the ideas in the work need not be new, but the form in which the ideas are expressed must be an original creation.  The protection is extended to cover the form of an expression of an idea, not the idea itself.  Aside from ideas, copyright protection does not extend to any procedure, method of operation or mathematical concept.

Copyright does not, however, provide protection against subsequent independent development of the same or substantially similar work

in this scope


Policies, Laws and Standards by countries​

Convention and Treaties​

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)​