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If you work with original and creative material, you may wonder what the difference between copyright and design protection is in New Zealand. At a glance, it seems like they are very similar. However, there are key differences between copyright and design protection. If you can understand these, you will be in a better position to use these intellectual property tools to your advantage. This article will step through the key differences between copyright and design so that you can decide which is best for your work.


Copyright is an intellectual property tool that protects original work when you create it. Additionally, copyright protection is automatic. Copyright covers a wide range of material, such as:

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

A copyright owner has the right to decide who else, other than themselves, can copy, publish or use their work. The owner also is protected by copyright law if they need to enforce their rights against infringement. You can mark your copyright work with the © symbol, but it is not necessary to gain copyright protection. 


A registered design protects the visual appearance of an object or product. Like copyright, owners of a registered design will have the right to determine who can use and profit from their design. It will also give them legal protection should they need it. You must register designs with the Intellectual Property Office New Zealand (IPONZ). Registration applications can be made on the IPONZ website and must include:

  • multiple representations that show the design from different angles; and
  • a statement of novelty.

A design must be new and original, and not in the public domain before registration. This means you must keep your design secret until you have registration approval from IPONZ. After that, IPONZ will typically respond to your application within 15 working days. 

Differences Between Copyright and Design 

You may have already picked up some differences between copyright and design. It is important to understand these differences as they will help you decide which intellectual property tool is best for your work. 

What They Protect

As mentioned above, copyright protects a wide range of material. In contrast, a registered design can only protect the visual appearance of a product. Design registration does not protect the function of a product, but rather the visual appearance. On the other hand, copyright can protect some functional things. For example, copyright protects most books. Here, you can see a key difference between copyright and design where if you chose the wrong intellectual property tool, it might not protect your work completely. 

Additionally, copyright protects the expression of ideas or information. However, it does not protect the idea itself. For example, if you were to write a script, copyright would protect your written work, but not the ideas included in your play. This means that someone else could write their own very similar play, and it would not infringe on your copyright. 

How They Apply

For copyright, protection applies automatically when the work is created or produced. On the other hand, design protection does not apply until you register the design with IPONZ. This is a significant difference, because you can start using your copyrighted material immediately with guaranteed protection. However, with a design, you must keep it out of the public domain to gain registration approval, so you may have to wait to use it. 


If you think someone has infringed your intellectual property rights, there are ways to protect yourself with both copyright and design registration. The Copyright Tribunal deals with legal conflicts regarding copyright. However, they do not provide legal advice, so you should seek legal assistance in these circumstances. There is no specific tribunal for design registrations if someone has infringed on your right. It is best to seek legal advice if someone has infringed your design and refuses to stop. 

Key Takeaways

While copyright and design may seem similar, there are differences around what they protect, how they apply and their enforcement. These key differences may show you which intellectual property tool applies to your work better. Having a better understanding of which of these is better for your work will mean that you are protecting your work in the long run. If you need further advice about your intellectual property, contact Legalvision’s intellectual property lawyers on 0800 005 570 or fill out the form on this page. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does copyright protection last?

This will vary depending on the kind of work the copyright is protecting. For example, the copyright for literary works lasts for the creator’s lifetime plus 50 years.

How long does design protection last?

Design protection lasts for five years. You can renew this protection every five years for a total of 15 years.

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