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Although there are many types of intellectual property (IP) rights (including patents, trade marks and trade secrets) no matter who you are, you have probably heard of copyright. Copyright is a fundamental IP right that allows creators of original works to have exclusive control over how those works can be: 

  • used;
  • published;
  • reproduced;
  • transferred; and
  • sold.

This article will look at the basics of copyright protection in New Zealand, including: 

  • what copyright covers;
  • how long it lasts;
  • how you can use copyright material; and 
  • what options you may have if you believe someone is infringing on your copyright. 

What Types of Work Does Copyright Cover?

Copyright protects original artistic works that have a fixed format. This can include: 

  • songs;
  • paintings;
  • books;
  • scripts; 
  • literature;
  • tv broadcasts;
  • websites; and
  • computer programs. 

Not everything can be receive copyright protection. 

For example, things that are excluded include:

  • ideas;
  • methods; and
  • information that is not fixed in some type of media.

What Rights Does Copyright Provide to the Owner?

Copyright provides the person who holds it with the exclusive rights to:

  • reproduce;
  • sell;
  • distribute;
  • adapt; and 
  • otherwise communicate the copyrighted work.

Copyright also provides the owner with a right to grant another person to do any of those things. 

How Long Does Copyright Last?

In New Zealand, the length of copyright protection will vary depending on the type of artistic work that copyright protects. The general rule is that copyright lasts for 50 years from the date of production of the work, or from the date of the creator’s death. Once copyright expires, the work is in the “public domain”.

This means that anyone is able to use or reproduce it. A creator can also decide to release copyright work into the public domain before copyright has expired. 

When Can I Use Copyright Material Without Permission?

Without the permission of the copyright owner, another person is generally unable to use the copyright material. However, there are some exceptions to when copyright material may be used without the author’s permission. These are the “permitted acts”.

Some examples of permitted acts include using the copyright material:

  • in news reporting; or
  • extracting portions of the material for educational purposes.

If you think that one of the “permitted acts” applies to your planned usage of copyright material, you should speak to an intellectual property lawyer before you reproduce or use the copyright material to ensure that one of the exceptions to copyright does indeed apply. 

In New Zealand, the exceptions to when copyright material may be used without the author’s permission are different to the exceptions that exist in other countries. Notably, many countries  allow copyright material to be used without permission if it is for the purpose of parody or satire. The parody and satire exception does not currently apply in New Zealand at the time of publication of this article. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is currently undertaking a review of Copyright Act 1994, and it is expected that this exception will become part of New Zealand law in the near future. 

How Can I Protect My Copyright?

In New Zealand, copyright protection applies automatically from the date that the work is produced. It can be useful to include a copyright notice on your work to put others on notice of the fact that you are asserting your copyright – although note that copyright protection still applies even without a copyright notice. 

A simple example of a copyright notice should be in the format [© + your full name + the year the work is produced].

How Can I Use Someone Else’s Copyrighted Material?

The standard rules of copyright as set out above can always be varied by agreement between two parties.

For example, most employment contracts will contain a clause that says that any copyright material produced during the course of the employee’s engagement is the intellectual property of the company as soon as it is created. A person might also enter into a contract to license copyright material from another person, or even purchase the material outright, typically for a fee. These types of contracts are called Intellectual Property License Agreements or Intellectual Property Assignment Agreements, and are typically prepared by commercial lawyers.

If you are entering into a contract with another party, you should always have the IP clauses reviewed. This will ensure that existing and new copyright material is correctly allocated between the parties, and that you are not unintentionally giving away your IP rights to the other party.

What Should I Do if I Think Someone Has Infringed My Copyright?

There are several different options that may be available to you if you believe that someone has infringed on your copyright. The Copyright Tribunal in New Zealand hears disputes about copyright licensing agreements under the Copyright Act 1994, and applications about illegal uploading and downloading of copyrighted work, but they do not deal with other types of intellectual property infringement such as using a logo or design without permission. The Copyright Tribunal cannot provide legal advice to you. 

If your matter is complex and you are unsure whether the conduct of the other party constitutes copyright infringement, you can engage a commercial lawyer to review the matter, provide advice to you, communicate with the infringer, and assist you with legal proceedings, if necessary. 

Key Takeaways

Copyright is a fundamental IP right available to creator’s of original works that provides them with the exclusive right to use or commercialise the work. Generally, copyright material cannot be used without permission unless an exception applies or the material is in the public domain. Copyright ownership may be varied by contract. If you require assistance enforcing your copyright against people who may be using it without permission, or need help with preparing agreements to transfer or license copyright material, contact Contact LegalVision’s intellectual property lawyers on 0800 005 570 or leave a message in the box below.


What is copyright?

Copyright is a fundamental IP right that allows creators of original works to have exclusive control over how those works can be used.

What does copyright protect?

Copyright protects all kinds of works, including songs, paintings, books, scripts, literature, tv broadcasts, websites and computer programs. 

How can I obtain copyright protection?

In New Zealand, copyright protection applies automatically from the date that the work is produced.

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