Using and copying cultural property and indigenous works

What is cultural property?

Cultural property is the heritage of a people, rather than the intellectual property of an individual author. In the case of Māori for example, cultural property resides with whānau, hapū and iwi from whom the creators’ knowledge base originates.

Does the Copyright Act cover cultural property?

The Copyright Act conflicts with this because ownership is focused on the individual and the protection afforded by the Act is for a limited time after which it enters the public domain.

Is this a matter of academic integrity rather than copyright law?

There is an expectation that professional and academic standards are maintained when working with cultural property which is not covered by copyright. Just as individual authors retain moral rights even when they do not own copyright, indigenous works are to be treated with integrity and given proper attribution when they are in the public domain.

Who do you talk to when there isn’t a copyright owner in the legal sense?

Indigenous works may legally be in the public domain because they are either old or the author of the material cannot be identified.

Māori have obligations to safeguard cultural property and protect the relationship with these works or taonga. This relationship is known as a kaitiaki relationship. Regardless of legal ownership of taonga, reasonable efforts must be made to contact representative groups in regard to kaitiakitanga of taonga pertaining to those descent groups. If you are going to use an indigenous work ensure your use of the material is in keeping with customary laws.

Further reading