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What Is Copyright?

‘Copyright’ refers to a group of exclusive rights conferred by law (in New Zealand it is The Copyright Act 1994) in relation to original works. These rights allow copyright owners to control certain activities relating to the use of their work.

Rights Conferred By Copyright

Copyright gives copyright owners the exclusive legal rights to:

  • copy the work;

  • issue copies to the public;

  • perform the work in public;

  • show the work in public;

  • broadcast the work;

  • adapt the work by translation or dramatisation; and

  • transfer any such rights to another.

How Long Does Copyright Last in New Zealand?

Copyright protection applies to a work only for a limited period of time. In New Zealand the duration varies depending on the category of the copyright work:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works: Copyright protection lasts fifty years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.

  • Sound recordings and films: Copyright protection lasts fifty years from the end of the calendar year in which the sound recording or film was made or made available to the public, whichever is the latter.

  • Broadcasts and cable programmes: Copyright protection lasts fifty years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast is made, or the cable programme is included in a cable programme service.

  • Typographical arrangement of published editions: Copyright protection lasts until twenty-five years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition was first published.

Once copyright in a work expires, the works falls into the public domain and can be freely used.

How Long Does Copyright Last in Other Countries?

Copyright law differs worldwide and as such the length of copyright varies from country to country but is typically predicated on the life of the author. Just like in New Zealand copyright may also vary for different works. Because of this, if you want to know about copyright protection in a certain jurisdiction you should always consult that country’s relevant legislation.

Some Examples:

Australia – Life plus 50 years (for works by authors who died before 1955) , then life plus 70 years.

United Kingdom – Life plus 70 years.

United States of America – 28 or 95 years ( for works copyrighted 1923 – 1963 ), 95 years (for works copyrighted 1964-1977), then life plus 70 years.

For a complete list of the length of copyright around the world please see here

Exceptions to Copyright

There are a number of exceptions to copyright in New Zealand (where use may be made of the work without the permission of the copyright owners). Exceptions include:

  • “fair dealing” – for the purposes of criticism, review, news reporting, research or private study;

  • limited copying or dealing in the work for particular educational purposes;

  • limited copying or dealing in the work by librarians or archivists in specific circumstances.

Protecting Copyright

Copyright protection comes into existence automatically upon the creation of any original work. Although not required by law, it is a good idea to include a copyright statement or notice on a work. This will tell others that the work is subject to copyright protection.

A common form of copyright notice consists of the © symbol, the name of the copyright owner and the year the copyright work was first published. For example: © Julie Smith, 2006.

For additional copyright protection and to help to establish them as the author of the work, Creators can register their work with NZWG: see Script Registration.

Can’t I Protect My Work With Trademark Or Patent Law?

A ‘trademark’ is “any sign capable of being represented graphically and distinguishing the goods or services of one person from those of another person”. Writing work would not fall within that definition. Patents protect new methods of manufacture and scripts would normally also not come within this definition.

For information on trademark and patent law see IPONZ (the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand) and The Ministry of Economic Development.

More Information on Copyright In New Zealand
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