Copyright In Our Daily Lives

Copyright Protection

Copyright law in Malaysia is governed by the Copyright Act 1987 (“Copyright Act”). Under the Act and pursuant to the Berne Convention, copyright exists automatically upon the creation of a work and fulfilling certain requirements (i.e. originality, sufficient effort expended and reduced into material form) without the need for any formal registration. Some examples of copyright works are literary works, musical works, artistic works, films, sound recordings, broadcasts and derivative works.

Nevertheless, our laws allow copyright owners to file copyright notification with the Registrar (MyIPO) to assert ownership of their copyright works. Such notification is considered prima facie evidence (proof of copyright ownership) in cases of copyright infringement / dispute.

Authorship and Ownership

Generally, the author of a work is the person who creates the work. For example, the writer of a book is the author, an artist who painted a painting is the author and a composer of a music is the author. Usually, the author of a work is also the copyright owner of the same work unless the work was created in the course of employment or was the result of a commissioned work.

An author may decide to exploit the work by assigning the copyright in the work to another person, usually for some financial consideration. When that happens, the author effectively relinquishes his copyright ownership. The new copyright owner will then enjoy the exclusive rights which are granted under the laws usually through a licensing agreement.

Exclusive Rights of Copyright Owners

What are the exclusive rights are we talking about here? They are the rights to control the following acts with respect to literary, musical or artistic works, films, sound recordings and derivative works:

(a) the reproduction in any material form;

(b) the distribution of copies to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership;

(c) the communication to the public;

(d) the performance, showing or playing to the public; and

(e) the commercial rental to the public.

Note that Section 13 of the Copyright Act provides that a person who is not the copyright owner and who does any of the above acts, without permission from the copyright owner, commits a copyright infringement.

The right to control the reproduction of a work is essentially the exclusive right of a copyright owner to control the making of copies of the copyrighted work in any form. The reproduction right extends to making a copy of the copyright work in a medium different from the original. Thus, a sound recording in the form of a CD is reproduced if it is converted into MP3 format. It follows that any conversion of computer file format from their original state or format to another file format (e.g. MKV, PDF, MP4) is considered as a reproduction as well.

Some may argue that downloading an image from Google Images for one’s own and private use is legal and does not infringe any copyright. Contrary to the popular belief, such act may actually be considered unlawful, regardless whether it is for private use or otherwise as downloading an image would amount to reproduction of the original work. Under such circumstances, you may only download the image if the terms and conditions (e.g. “You may use this image for personal, non-commercial purposes but please always acknowledge my copyright”) on their website allow you to do so. Alternatively, to avoid copyright dispute, you may look for websites that provide ‘free’ contents (images or videos) to the public such as and These websites allow you to copy, modify and use the images even for commercial purposes without asking for permission or giving credits to the artist.

Say if someone owns an original music CD. Can he then play the music/song loudly in a shopping mall or other public places? Such an act would be considered unlawful even though he owns the original music CD. He can only play the music in a private setting but not in any public places where it can be heard by others as showing or playing to the public is one of the exclusive right enjoyed by the copyright owner! In order to play any music content legally in public, he may obtain a license from the relevant copyright licensing body such as Music Rights Malaysia (MRM).

How about playing and streaming a music or video in public places directly from online contents providers such as Spotify and Youtube? According to their general terms and conditions, you are not allowed to do so as well; unless you have separately subscribed to their ‘premium service’. Generally, such services are meant for personal enjoyment and non-commercial use only. This is to protect the interests of the artist.

These are some of the examples of what may or may not constitute copyright infringement when certain actions are carried out by non-owners of copyrightable works. It is advisable that one be prudent and be mindful of someone else’s copyright and ensure that one does not fall foul of the copyright laws.