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If you are a fan of a book, movie or television series, you might consider writing fanfiction about your favourite characters. However, there are copyright mistakes to avoid so that you do not infringe on the rights of the original creator. Most creative material like books, films or songs will have copyright protection. So, you should be aware of what you can and cannot do when writing fanfiction while respecting the rights of the creator. This article will guide you through the fine balance between writing fanfiction and avoiding copyright mistakes. 

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is an intellectual property right in New Zealand. It applies automatically when an original work is created. Copyright relates to the expression of work, not the idea itself. For example, copyright laws can automatically protect your fanfiction novel about vampires and the supernatural world, but not the idea of vampires. 

There are a few key points about copyright, namely that:

  • copyright is unregistrable;
  • you can use the © symbol to mark copyright material, but you do not have to for copyright to apply; and
  • copyright duration can vary according to the kind of work it applies to. 

Copyright is essentially the right to copy. If you are a copyright owner, you have the power to determine who can copy, publish, exhibit or perform, transmit or adapt your original material. You can also decide how other parties should use the material. This means you can limit and control the use of your copyright material. Accordingly, creators can safeguard their work and create without fear of copyright infringement. 

There are many categories of copyright. These are:

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

If you are a fanfiction writer you could be engaging with a number of these categories. So, it is important to remember that the material you are writing about is most likely protected by copyright laws. 

What Is Not Copyright?

New Zealand copyright law balances the rights of the creator with the interests of those who wish to use it for various reasons. This allows you to use copyright material without permission as long as you are doing it under set categories. These categories include:

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

If you are to use copyright material under any of these circumstances, the amount that you copy must be considered ‘fair’. This will depend on the context of your usage.

Fanfiction does not fall under any of these categories squarely. It is important to remember that New Zealand does not have a category of ‘parody and satire’ as other countries do under their copyright law.

So, how can you write fanfiction without infringing on copyright? This depends on what part of the copyrighted material you are planning on using. Remember that copyright is related to the expression of the work, not the idea. This means that you can use similar storylines or plots. But you may have to be careful if you wish to use, for example, the same names and places. It also may depend on whether you have copied a fundamental part of the work and how you use it. Importantly, you should be able to reference the main idea of the copyrighted material and build on it in your own way. 

Moral rights

Another copyright mistake to avoid is forgetting to credit the creator. Any person that creates copyright material has moral rights. Moral rights are required by copyright law and are outlined in the table below.

Moral Right Explanation
The right of attribution As a creator, you have the right to be identified every time your work is used or shared. This is a right that is applicable no matter how far and wide your work is shared. 
The right of integrity  You have the right to oppose any alterations to your work that could harm your reputation. The alteration must be derogatory, not just something that you disagree with.
The right not to have a work falsely attributed to them Your name should not be credited to any work that you did not create. 

Key Takeaways

Writing fanfiction is a way to express yourself and celebrate content that you love. However, there is a way to do this while staying within copyright law. In most cases, you can write fanfiction because you can write about the idea of the content you love. As long as you do not include aspects of copyrighted material that are fundamental, you should be avoiding copyright mistakes. If you would like to adhere to copyright law even further, you should include moral rights in your fanfiction. These are good ways to respect the creator of your favourite works while still enjoying them for yourself. However, copyright law and its application to fanfiction is a grey area in New Zealand, so it is best to proceed with care. 

For further advice about how copyright laws apply when writing fanfiction or other works, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I judge if my use of copyrighted material is fair?

This will depend on the context of how you use the copyrighted material. If there was an easily commercially available version of the copyrighted work, then that may be unfair. If you are unsure you should seek legal advice.

Do I always have to adhere to moral rights?

Unless a creator has expressly waived their moral rights, you should always stick to them.

What happens if the copyright has expired?

This means that the work has entered the public domain.

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