What is copyright?

Copyright is a property right that exists in original artistic works. Copyright protection refers to the exclusive rights that the author of the original artistic work has under the law.

Some of these exclusive rights include:

  •      Copying the work;
  •      Issuing copies of the work to the public;
  •      Performing, playing or showing the work in public;
  •      Communicating the work to the public
  •      Making an adaptation of the work.

Do I need to apply for copyright?

Not in New Zealand. In New Zealand, Copyright protection automatically arises in original artistic works so long as that work is recorded, in writing or otherwise, by an author. In the case of computer-generated works, the author is taken to be the person who made the arrangements necessary for the creation of the work.

What kind of artistic works does copyright protect?

Copyright exists in original works of the following description:

  •    Literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works;
  •    Sound recordings;
  •    Films;
  •    Communication works;
  •    Typographical arrangements of published editions.

What does not attract Copyright protection?

Copyright protection does not extend to specific public documents such as legislation, court and tribunal judgments, Government inquiries or reports of select committees. 

Copyright is also unlikely to protect names, titles and headlines because they are usually too short or unoriginal.

Copyright also only protects the expression of ideas, rather than the ideas themselves. This is important because there are only so many ideas and themes available. So for example, the idea of a young couple falling in love during wartime has been the theme of multiple books and movies. While the idea itself is not protected by copyright, each specific artistic expression will be.

How long is an original artistic work protected for?

It depends on the type of work. Copyright in literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works attracts copyright protection for 50 years after the end of the calendar year in which the author dies. With films and sound recordings, copyright protection expires 50 years after the work was either made or made available to the public, whichever of those two dates is later.

What if I create a work with another person?

If you collaborate on a work with another author, then the work will be of joint authorship and you will both have copyright rights in the work. Here, collaboration means that the contribution of each author is not distinct from that of the other author/s.

So, for example, if Person A and Person B come up with the idea of a novel together, plan the plot points together and write together, then it is likely that that novel will be a work of joint authorship. However, if Person C writes a novel alone and Person D edits that novel, it is unlikely that person D will be considered a joint author for the purposes of the Act.

What is Copyright infringement?

Copyright infringement is where a person who is not the copyright owner engages in one of the exclusive rights (listed above), and does so without a licence.

The person does not have to infringe the whole of the copyright work, but at least a substantial part of it. Infringement can be direct or indirect.

Are there instances in which others’ work can be used without infringing copyright?

Yes, there are. You could obtain a licence to exercise some of the exclusive rights of the copyright owner, such as play music in a public place like a café, gym or office.

There are also certain acts permitted in relation to copyright works such as use for criticism, review and news reporting, and for research and private study.

It should be noted, however, that each licence or permitted act has limitations placed on it (for example, that you must sufficiently acknowledge the work, or you may only copy a certain amount of the work).  If you are unsure whether your use of another’s copyrightable work is permitted or not, it is best to seek advice from a professional experienced in the area.

Leading law firms committed to helping clients cost-effectively will have a range of fixed-price Initial Consultations to suit most people’s needs in quickly learning what their options are.  At Rainey Collins we have an experienced team who can answer your questions and put you on the right track.

Sarah Jamieson