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As a freelancer creating original work in New Zealand, you must be aware of copyright laws that impact your own business and the business you are working for. You must also be aware of your intellectual property rights. However, as you probably work with many different parties, it can be hard to keep track of the copyright rules you need to follow. This article will set out the basics of copyright and some specific tips for you as a freelancer. 

Understanding the Basics of Copyright

In New Zealand, copyright automatically applies when something is created. There are a wide variety of categories that are under copyright protection. These are:

  • literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works; 
  • the typographical layout of published editions; 
  • sound recordings; 
  • films; and 
  • communication works.

How long copyright protection lasts will depend on the kind of work it applies to. You can use the © symbol to signal to others that your freelance work has copyright. However, even if you do not use it, your freelance work is still protected. 

Copyright provides the owner with protection for the work that they have created, particularly when copyright infringement occurs. It gives you the right to decide who else can exploit your work and copy it in any way.

There are circumstances where you may not need to ask the copyright owner for permission to use their material. This is when you use it for:

  • research;
  • private study;
  • criticism or review; or 
  • reporting current events.

If you plan to use copyrighted material for any of these purposes, the amount you use must be considered ‘fair’ or it will be considered copyright infringement. This will depend on the context of your use.

Determining if You Are the Copyright Owner

As a general rule, the creator or author of a work is also the work’s copyright owner. As a freelancer, that would usually be you. However, if you create material as an employee, your employer could own the copyright. 

If you are under employment as a freelancer and you create material for that employment, your employer will likely be the copyright owner. Therefore, your employment contract, or a licence or assignment agreement, should include these terms. Your employment contract will usually include these terms in an intellectual property clause. This will also contain information about who the copyright owner will be. 

It may not always be clear if your relationship with another business is as a freelancer or employee. As such, you should clarify this with the other party before you begin work. Some indicators that you may be an employee are if you have:

  • a regular salary;
  • KiwiSaver contributions; and
  • a permanent workspace and equipment.

Using Licence and Assignment Agreements 

Another way that you might see your work used by others is through a licence agreement or assignment

A licence agreement is a contract between two parties. It allows the copyright owner to permit the other party to use their material. Importantly, it does not have any impact on copyright ownership. As a copyright owner, you can vary a licence agreement to determine who can use your material and how and when they use it. Additionally, there are also different types of use that can be included in a licence agreement. These are:

  • exclusive use, where only the other party can use the copyrighted material;
  • non-exclusive use, where both parties can use the copyrighted material at the same time; and 
  • sole use, where it is agreed that only one licence agreement will be active.

An assignment is the complete transfer of the copyrighted material and ownership rights to another party. An assignment is a legally binding agreement. To be considered valid it must:

  • be in writing;
  • have both parties signatures; and 
  • have details about the new owner and material being transferred. 

Key Takeaways

If you are a freelancer, it can be difficult to know who owns the copyright to the work you are creating. You can look to things like employment agreements, licence agreements, and assignments to know copyright ownership details. This will allow you to understand what you can and cannot do with your work. In addition, it will avoid conflict when it comes to sharing it with others later down the track. If you need further assistance with your intellectual property, LegalVision’s IP lawyers can help. Call 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I register my copyright?

No, there is no register for copyright in New Zealand.

If it is not registered, is it still enforceable?

Yes, copyright is just as enforceable as any other intellectual property tool. 

What options do I have if someone infringes my copyright?

If you think that someone has infringed on your copyright, you can take legal action. This could involve taking the issue to the New Zealand Copyright Tribunal. However, it is best to seek legal advice in these circumstances. 

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