Understanding Copyright – Do I Need Protection?

5 April, 2017 | Bret Gower

There is no formal system for copyright registration in New Zealand and you don’t need to put a copyright notice on your work or do anything else in order for the work to be protected. This is the one form of intellectual property protection which automatically applies to all original works.

However, although not legally required, it is prudent to include a copyright notice on copyright work, for example © Copyright Smith and Partners 2019. This reminds people that the work is protected and informs them as to who is claiming the copyright.

The types of work protected by copyright

  • Literary works which would include written commercial work such as letters, emails, journal articles, computer programs, data tables etc.
  • Dramatic works.
  • Musical works.
  • Artistic works which would cover drawings, diagrams, photographs and architectural works.
  • Sound recordings.
  • Films.
  • Communication works including internet transmissions.
  • Typographical arrangements of published editions.

It is the expression of an idea or information which is protected rather than ideas or information in itself. For example, if you write a novel, the text will be protected but not the ideas or the plot. Someone else could write their own novel using the same idea without necessarily infringing your copyright.

Ownership of copyright

The creator of the original work will be the first owner of any copyright in it by operation of law.

Employers, Employees & Copyright

An exception to this first owner rule is where a work is created in the course of employment, in which case the employer may be the owner. It is very important, if you have an employee who is, for example, drawing up original plans for a property (e.g. it might be a residential property or a commercial property), that you have a clear provision in their employment agreement so that copyright will not vest in them but will vest in the employer.

Copyright issues when commissioning work

Similarly, when someone commissions a work (it might be a computer program, a diagram or a plan) then the person commissioning that work will be the owner.

If your business develops computer programs or creates plans or any type of original work which can be protected by copyright, and you have clients who may commission such work, having a clear provision in your contract which specifically grants you ownership of the copyright in that work would be extremely important.

If your business is commissioning work from someone else that may be subject to copyright, you should be clear in the contract who has ownership.

How long does copyright last?

Copyright in New Zealand, in most situations, lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 50 years from the end of the year in which the creator dies.

Licencing agreements

The value of asserting your copyright rights, in addition to the protection of your brand or your business assets, is that you can assign copyright by selling it to another party and you can licence the copyright work in order to permit someone else to exercise your copyright rights for a price.

Obviously, any such licence agreement would have to be carefully thought out and the agreed terms duly put together into a licencing agreement.

If you would like to discuss any matters relating to Intellectual Property or other commercial matters, please contact our Intellectual Property Law expert, Bret Gower — bret.gower@smithpartners.co.nz or call 09 837 6893

Do you have questions about how copyright works? Is someone infringing on your copyright?

Protect your brand – contact our Intellectual Property Law expert, Bret Gower today to set up an appointment.

email Bret
09 837 6893

About the author

Bret is a key member of the commercial team at Smith and Partners, having joined the firm after a successful career as a design agency owner. Bret’s clients have confidence in him because of his unique combination of down-to-earth communication
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