Understand Copyright – Do Not Take It For Granted


With technology, we can easily save a picture and download a song with the click of a mouse. We are free to access, share, copy and generate creative works as we like. We take these for granted and often neglect the phrase “this image is subject to copyright”.  We are not aware that our actions may infringe on someone else’s copyright. In the worst-case scenario, we may be sued for copyright infringement.

This article aims to share with you the basics of Copyright law in Malaysia. Let’s be a responsible digital citizen and interact with creative works ethically and legally!

What is copyright?

It is an automatic right granted to the author or creator of the copyrighted work.  It prevents others from copying the copyrighted work without their permission. Depending on the categories of the copyrighted works, a copyright protection lasts during the lifetime of the author or creator plus around 50 years or more after his death.  For example, if you had created a piece of music in 2021 and published it online, you will have copyright over the song for your whole life plus another 50 years after your death.

 What are some examples of copyright infringement?
  • Posting a video that features copyrighted images or music.
  • Using copyrighted images or music on your work or social media account.
  • Downloading music or films without paying for their use.
  • Copying any artistic work without a license.
What rights are protected by copyright law?

Economy rights:

The copyright owner has the exclusive right to:

  • reproduce the work in any material form;
  • communicate the work to the public;
  • perform, showing or playing the work to the public;
  • distribute the work to the public by sale; and
  • rent the work to the public based on commercial rental.

Moral rights:

The copyright owner has the right to:

  • be identified as the author of the work; and
  • prevent the copyrighted work from being distorted or modified in a way that affects his reputation.
How can you “copy” the work legally?
  1. Understand copyright.

Firstly, copyright in Malaysia is protected by the Copyright Act 1987. This right is granted to the author without any form of registration. Unlike purchasing a house, you must first be a registered owner before you can claim the house belongs to you. This Act was amended in 2012 where Parliament introduced a voluntary notification procedure. The author can submit a notification to the MyIPO to further protect their right.

Secondly, copyright applies regardless of the quality and the purpose of creating the work. That means a ten-year-old child will have copyright over his superman drawing. As long as the author puts in efforts to create the work, he is entitled to a copyright protection.

Thirdly, copy 20% of the work also amounts to copyright infringement. Many will think that copy a small portion of the copyrighted work is fine. It is a wrong assumption. Copyright infringement does not depend on the quantity you copied but the quality of the copyrighted work that you copied. If the copied work represents the most recognizable part of the copyrighted work, you are most likely infringing the copyright.

  1. Think twice and look carefully

Before right-clicking your mouse, see carefully whether the work has been subject to copyright. If you search for an image on Google search engine, usually a copyright notice will appear together with the image that you search. Just because you are able to copy/download an image, it does not mean that the image is copyright free. Most likely than not, the image is subject to certain copyright protection.

  1. Obtaining permission

Directly contact the authors who created the work and ask for permission whether you can use it. You can look carefully at the copyright notice. It may contain the information of the author. You can also directly contact the publisher if there is no information regarding the actual author or owner. Many have the misconception that attribution to the author is sufficient. That is not entirely true. Attribution and obtaining permission are two different things. You will still infringe the copyright even if you attribute the author in your work.

However, permission from the author is not required if you used the work for:

  • Research;
  • Private study;
  • Criticism;
  • Review or reporting of news or current events.

The above activities are non-commercial activities which amount to fair use. Fair use is a defense to a copyright infringement. That means an unauthorized use of copyrighted material is excusable if it falls under the principle of fair use. However, even though permission is not required when there is fair use, you must attribute the author as required by law.

  1. Use a copyright-free material

All works that are in the public domain are no longer subject to copyright protection and hence they are free to use. For example, the work has passed the copyright protection duration as it was created long time ago after the passing of the author. In addition, there are certain platforms that offer licensing of copyrighted works, such as image library where by paying a fee, you will acquire a license to use the image in your work. If a work is distributed under a Creative Commons licence, you can also re-use it for free under the conditions set by the said licence.

  1. Copy the ideas and not the work itself

Copyright protects only the expression of ideas, not the ideas themselves. For example, two artists may paint the same model picture but portray them differently. Both of them do not infringe the copyright of each other just because they may have the same kind of idea. Taking inspiration from someone else’s work is always acceptable. Copying blindly is not acceptable.


Generally speaking, anything you see or read on the Internet is usually subject to some form of copyright protection. If you copy, reproduce, display, or otherwise hold out another’s work as your own, you are infringing someone’s copyrighted material even if you are not benefited financially from the use. Do not think that just because you are not doing it for a commercial purpose, therefore you are not infringing any copyright. Intellectual property infringement is a strict liability offence. It does not depend on the motive or intention of the infringer, but rather it focuses on the act of the infringer.

The future of both creativity and the Internet will be affected by how we interact with creative work. We all want to encourage great books, music, games, movies, and art for everyone to enjoy. We also want our work to be respected when we create it. Start understanding copyright, respecting copyright in order to create a culture where creativity is encouraged and innovation is cherished.



About the author:
This article was written by Edwin Lee Yong Cieh, Partner and Wong Shen Ming, Trainee Lawyer – a law firm in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


The view expressed in this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter and does not constitute professional legal advice. You are advised to seek proper legal advice for your specific situation.

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