Copyright protection in New Zealand

The term ‘copyright’ refers to the exclusive rights given to owners of original works, under the Copyright Act 1994. The Act allows copyright owners to control certain activities relating to the use and dissemination of their works.

Copyright protects the particular manner in which an idea is expressed or information is conveyed. It can’t protect mere information, ideas, schemes or methods that can be expressed in other ways.

The Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand (IPONZ) also has information on copyright protection:

Visit the IPONZ website.

What qualifies for copyright protection?

For a work or type of material to qualify for copyright protection, four conditions must generally be met -

  1. It must fall within one of the categories or subject matter in which copyright can exist
  2. It must be original
  3. The nationality of the author, or the origin of the work, must be one that qualifies for protection
  4. Certain works must be fixed either in writing or some other material form.


Copyright may exist in original works of the following types or categories:

  • Literary works: Written works such as novels, poems, articles, notes and song lyrics; computer programs; tables; and compilations, including compilations of works and compilations of data.
  • Dramatic works: Including works of dance or mime and scenarios or scripts for films and plays.
  • Artistic works: Graphical works such as paintings, drawings, plans and maps, irrespective or artistic "quality" or merit; photographs, sculptures and models; buildings and models of buildings; and works of artistic craftsmanship that must have some artistic quality or level of skill.
  • Musical works: Musical scores or arrangements, but not accompanying lyrics or dances, which could be separately protected as a literary or dramatic work.
  • Sound recordings: Recordings or fixation of sounds or literary, dramatic or musical works from which sounds can be reproduced. A recording is protected separately from any copyright that may exist in the work recorded.
  • Films: Recordings in any media from which moving images can be produced by any means, which includes video cassettes (such VHS or BETA recordings), celluloid prints, digital versatile disk (DVDs) recordings, video compact disk (VCD) recordings and films stored on other types of computer disks. The images in a film are protected separately from any copyright there may be in the script or accompanying sound recording.
  • Communication works: communications works are transmissions of sounds, visual images or other information, or a combination of those, for reception by the public. Communications works can include broadcasts or cable programmes. Copyright protects communications works independently of any copyright in the content transmitted.
  • Typographical arrangements of published editions: The typeset or image of the published edition of the whole or part of a literary, dramatic or published work, which may or may not itself be protected by copyright. Copyright in a typographical arrangement exists independently of copyright in the published work.

What doesn’t qualify for copyright protection?

Copyright protection does not apply to certain government works such as:

  • Parliamentary bills
  • Acts of parliament
  • Regulations
  • Bylaws
  • Parliamentary debates
  • Select Committee reports
  • Court and tribunal judgements
  • Reports of royal commissions, commissions of inquiry, ministerial inquiries or statutory inquiries.

It is possible however that reprints or publications of this material by non-governmental parties could give rise to copyright.

Types of rights conferred by copyright

Under the Act, the owner of copyright in a work has the “exclusive right” to do certain "restricted acts" in relation to the work.  These include:

  • Copying the work
  • Publishing, issuing or selling copies of the work to the public
  • The right to perform the work in public
  • Playing the work in public
  • Showing the work in public
  • Making an adaptation of the work or doing any of the above activities in relation to an adaptation
  • Communicating the work to the public
  • Authorising any other person to do any of the restricted activities listed above

How long copyright protection lasts

Copyright protection only applies to a work for a limited period of time.  This varies depending on the category of the copyright work.  Generally, the protection periods are as follows:

  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works: Copyright protection lasts 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies.
  • Artistic works industrially applied: Copyright protection lasts 16 years from the time the work is industrially applied.
  • Works of artistic craftsmanship industrially applied: Copyright protection lasts 25 years from the time the work is industrially applied
  • Sound recordings and films: Copyright protection lasts 50 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 later.
  • Broadcasts and cable programmes: Copyright protection lasts 50 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 25 years from the end of the calendar year in which the edition was first published.
  • Communication works: Copyright protection lasts 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the broadcast communication work is made, or the cable programme is included in a cable programme service.

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

Exceptions to copyright

There are some exceptions to the rights in the Act.  These "permitted acts” reflect instances where Parliament has determined that the wider public interest, or the interests of particular groups, makes it necessary to restrict or limit the rights granted to copyright owners.  Permitted acts include:

  • Copying or using the work for the purposes of criticism, review, news reporting, research or private study
  • Limited copying or using the work for particular educational purposes
  • Limited copying or using the work by librarians or archivists in specific circumstances
  • Exceptions in respect of certain activities by the Crown
  • Making a Braille copy of the work subject to certain conditions
  • The making of a back-up copy of a computer program
  • Recording a television programme for the purpose of making a complaint or for "time shifting" purposes so that a programme can be watched at a more convenient time.
  • Copying a sound recording for the purpose of playing that sound recording on other devices owned by the owner of the sound recording, providing the conditions of section 81A are met (known as format shifting)

How to protect your copyright

Under the Act, copyright protection happens automatically when any original work is created.  You don’t have to register the work - there is no formal system for the registration of copyright in New Zealand.

Although not required by law, it is a good idea to include a copyright statement on a work.  This will inform others that the work is subject to copyright protection and that consent is not granted for others to copy the work or deal with it in any other way restricted by copyright.

A common form of copyright notice is the © symbol, the name of the copyright owner and the year the copyright work was first published.  For example: © Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 2011.

Copyright licensing

If a person wants to use a work in a way that may infringe the work’s copyright, they can ask the copyright owner for a licence to use that work.  If granted, the licence will usually specify the ways in which the work can be used.

Usually the licence holder will have to pay the copyright owner for the use of the copyright work.  A copyright owner is under no obligation to grant a licence to use the work.

In New Zealand, there are a number of organisations representing copyright owners.  They are authorised to grant copyright licences for particular purposes and collect licence fees (royalties) on behalf of copyright owners.

New Zealand’s Copyright Tribunal

The Copyright Tribunal hears disputes about licences allowing the copying, performing and broadcasting of works.  Some proposed or operative schemes for licensing can also be referred to the Tribunal.

Any person who believes a copyright owner has unreasonably refused to grant a licence for the copying, performing or broadcasting of a copyright work can apply to the Tribunal.  The Tribunal decides whether the applicant is entitled to a licence and on what terms.  This only applies where the copyright owner has set up a scheme for licensing the use of copyright works.

The Copyright Tribunal may also determine claims of copyright infringement arising from illegal file sharing under sections 122A to U of the Copyright Act 1994, as amended by the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act 2011.

To find out more please contact:

Copyright Tribunal
Tribunals Unit
Private Bag 32-001
DX number: SX11159
Panama Street
Wellington 6146

Phone: 04 462 6660


Website: Copyright Tribunal 

Moral rights protected by copyright

Authors and directors have certain moral rights as well as the economic rights provided under the Act, which include:

  • The right to be identified as the author of a work (the right of attribution)
  • The right to object to derogatory treatment of the work (the right of integrity)
  • The right not to have a work falsely attributed to them.

Moral rights cannot be assigned to another person except when the author dies. 

Performers’ rights

Performers' rights are a type of intellectual property right. They are related to copyright but are independent from the copyright that may exist in a work that may be performed.

Performers' rights are provided for in Part IX of the Copyright Act 1994. The Act gives performers limited rights to control the exploitation of their performances where they haven’t given consent.

Protected performances are defined in the Act by reference to the main categories of works protected by copyright - dramatic performances, musical performances, readings and recitations of literary works and performances of a variety act.

Read more about performers’ rights


Where to find legal advice on copyright issues

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is not able to provide legal advice.  If you have concerns about your legal position, please contact an intellectual property lawyer.  You’ll find them in:

Find out more

To find out more about copyright protection in New Zealand, contact the Intellectual Property Policy Group.


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For further information (except legal advice), please contact:

Business Law
Commerce, Consumers and Communications Branch
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
15 Stout Street
PO Box 1473

Phone | 04-472 0030 
Fax | 04-499 1791
Email | 
Copyright Act Review