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New Zealand law provides creators with automatic rights and protections concerning the creative works they produce. You can refer to moral rights as ‘personal rights.’ These are independent of copyright protections already in place. They remain with the creator, even if someone else holds the copyright for a body of work. There are several different moral rights. This article will explain how moral rights work and the different types of rights attached to them. 

How Do Moral Rights Work?

Creatives have moral rights if they create any of the following:

  • literary works, including novels, screenplays, poems and song lyrics;
  • dramatic works, including dance, mime and film scenarios or scripts;
  • musical works;
  • artistic works, including paintings, drawings, diagrams, maps, engravings, etchings, photographs, sculptures; and
  • architectural works.

Moral rights in New Zealand, in the same way as copyright, occur automatically. There is no requirement for you (as a creator) to register these moral rights. They continue until copyright ceases to exist in your body of work. The exception is cinematograph films, where moral rights continue until their creator’s death. Generally, copyright protection and moral rights operate for the same period.

As a creator, you should obtain written agreements to protect important personal rights. Some employers or workplaces may require you to sign a ‘waiver’ of moral rights. This does not eliminate any of your rights as such, but essentially you agree not to enforce those moral rights.  

The Right to Be Identified

Creators have the right to be identified or a right of attribution. Therefore, this right obliges others to clearly and prominently credit your work whenever a person or business uses it. This right of attribution refers to the idea that you are entitled to have that work attributed to you if you create work. 

Creators usually need to ‘assert’ their right to be identified. Therefore, you will need to clarify if you wish to be named on any copies of your work, whether under a pseudonym or whatever name you prefer. All creators of literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works have the right to be identified whenever the work is published commercially. This means that anyone seeing, listening to or watching their work should be able to identify them as the creator. 

The Right Against False Attribution

Additionally, as a creator, you have a moral right not to have authorship (or directorship in the case of a film) falsely attributed to you. This usually comes about when the authorship is unclear, or where copyright in a body of work has previously been assigned to someone else who is not the author. 

For example, this right prevents someone from attaching your name to a painting to incorrectly imply that you painted the work. However, no infringement occurs in the case of unintended errors, for instance, where the person making the attribution did not have any reason to believe that that attribution was incorrect. 

The Right to Object to Derogatory Treatment

A crucial moral right is the right to object to derogatory treatment of a work, also known as integrity of authorship. This protects a creative’s work from being subject to derogatory treatment. Derogatory treatment refers to anything that mutilates or harms the work or alters it in a way that tarnishes the reputation of the creator. This moral right seeks to protect the artistic integrity of both the created work and the author. 

It does not apply when someone has simply altered your work, or because you are not happy with how someone has treated your work. This moral right intends to protect your creation from negative additions, alterations or deletions. 

Right to Privacy in Certain Photographs and Films

A person who commissions a photograph or film, but does not own the copyright in it, has a privacy right (a less common moral right), where the photo or video is for private or domestic purposes. Common examples include videos or photos for weddings or funerals. 

This privacy right means that no person or business can publish, exhibit or broadcast your work without your permission.

Key Takeaways

As a creator, several moral rights automatically attach to you and your works. These rights are separate to copyright protections. They protect your right to be identified and against being falsely attributed as the creator. Moral rights also stop others from distorting or mutilating your work. There is also a limited right to privacy for particular commissioned creative works, like photos and videos of family events. 

If you feel that someone has breached your moral rights, you can enforce these rights against that person or business. If you have any further questions about moral rights in New Zealand, contact LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 0800 005 570 or complete the form on this page.


How do I register moral rights?

You do not legally need to register moral rights; they accrue automatically. However, as a creative, it is a good idea for you to have written agreements to protect your work. These agreements should set out the terms of use of that work and protect any personal interests you may have.

What is the right to object to derogatory treatment?

This right protects creatives from the derogatory treatment of their work. Derogatory treatment generally means that someone cannot do anything that prejudices the author or the work, such as materially harming the work or destroying part or all of the work. Ultimately, this right means that someone cannot damage or otherwise amend a creative’s work if that amendment has adverse effects.

Can moral rights be transferred?

Since moral rights are personal to the creator, they cannot be sold or transferred to another person.

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