Basics of Copyright


The law of copyright aims, amongst other things, to prevent people making unauthorised copies of other peoples’ work. The current legislation is the result of a major revision of the Copyright Act 1962. The Copyright Act 1994 takes into account the development of new technologies, such as satellite broadcasting, computer programmes and cable television. The new Act also has more stringent criminal penalties for breaches and tougher border control measures.

Copyright is a statutory property right and exists in original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. The requirement for originality does not mean that the idea behind the work has to be original, only that the idea is expressed in the work in an original form. Originality is a question of fact and will depend on whether sufficient independent skill and labour has been involved in the creation of the work.

Copyright arises AUTOMATICALLY. It does not require registration or any other formality. Copyright is not international. Conventions or agreements with other countries mean, however, that a New Zealand copyright may be recognised and protected overseas and a foreign copyright may be recognised and protected in New Zealand.

Subject matter protected by copyright includes literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works, sound recordings, films, broadcasts, cable programmes and typographical arrangements of published editions. Generally, the author of a work is the first owner of any copyright in the work. Exceptions exist, however, where works are created in the course of employment (the employer will be the first owner of copyright) and where certain works are commissioned (the commissioning party is the first owner of copyright). Copyright owners have the exclusive right to:

  • Copy the work
  • Issue copies to the public by sale or otherwise
  • Perform, play or show the work in public
  • Broadcast the work or include the work in a cable programme
  • Make an adaptation of the work
  • All of the above in relation to an adaptation
  • Authorise another person to do any of the above


The definition of copying is set out in The Copyright Act 1994, which the PMCA scheme operates within. However, this definitionis extremely broad. The PMCA has a detailed definition of Copying to help organisations understand what constitutes an illegal act and what forms of copyingwill require a licence.

Copying includes the act of copying, reproducing, recording, storing (in any medium and by any means), re-transmitting, emailing, faxing, printing, posting on the internet or an intranet site, selling, publishing, distributing or sharing, whether for internal purposes or otherwise. 


The Act states that no copyright exists in any of the following works:

  • Any Bill before Parliament
  • An Act of Parliament
  • A Regulation
  • A by-law
  • Hansard
  • Reports of Select Committees
  • Judgements of any Court or Tribunal
  • Reports of Royal Commissions, etc


Subject to certain exceptions, copyright in literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work expires at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies. If the work is of unknown authorship, copyright expires at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which it is first made available to the public.


Copyright in a work is infringed by a person who does not own the copyright and who has not been authorised by the copyright owner, if they copy, publish, perform, broadcast or adapt the work or a substantial part of it.

The importation of goods into New Zealand outside of the authorised distribution channels (“parallel importing”) is no longer an infringement of copyright in those goods. Previously, copyright in a work was infringed by a person who, other than pursuant to a copyright licence, imported into New Zealand for other than the person’s private and domestic use, goods that were, and that person knew or had reason to believe were, infringing copies of the goods. Parallel importing of goods may still be prevented, however, by other intellectual property rights in the goods.

Section 42 of the Act allows that fair dealing with literary, dramatic, or musical works does not constitute an infringement of copyright if:

  • It is for the purpose of criticism or review of the work; or
  • It is for the purpose of reporting current events in a newspaper, magazine or similar periodical or by means of a sound recording, film broadcast or cable programme and the author or owner of the copyright in the work is sufficiently acknowledged.


The Copyright Act 1994 has created moral rights in relation to copyright. This is to prevent any distortion, mutilation or other derogatory treatment of the work that would be prejudicial to the honour or reputation of the author.

A moral right is independent of the author’s economic rights and cannot be sold or transferred.

To view The Copyright Act 1994, visit