Using and copying indigenous works

Māori intellectual property

The Copyright Act does not provide appropriate and adequate protection for Māori cultural expressions. To Māori they are a critical means of transmitting culture, spirituality, customs and beliefs from generation to generation and preserving traditional knowledge. One of the difficulties is that the Anglo-American ownership/authorship model centred on the individual is at odds with this purpose.

Māori ownership of cultural works rests with whānau, hapū and iwi, from whom the creators’ knowledge base originates. not with the individual. Māori have obligations to safeguard these works and protect the relationship with these works or taonga. This relationship is known as a kaitiaki relationship. The Copyright Act conflicts with this, not only because ownership is focused on the individual, but because the protection afforded by the Copyright Act is for a limited time after which time it enters the public domain where it can be freely used to encourage further innovation and creation.

For further information see, Jordanna Bowman (2011) Coping with Culture: Copyright, cultural expressions and inadequacy of protection for Māori.

The Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act

The Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act 2014 which acknowledges the haka Ka Mate as a taonga of Ngāti Toa Rangatira tribe does not grant any enforceable and legal rights against a third party. Parliament enacted the Act as part of the Crown settlement of the Ngāti Toa Rangatira’s Treaty of Waitangi claim. For Ngāti Toa Rangatira, of particular concern is the appropriate use of the haka.

It is of great significance to Ngāti Toa Rangatira that the haka is treated with respect. The values which Ngāti Toa Rangatira seek to uphold are the ihi, wehi, and wana—the ihi being the spiritual force and the wehi and wana being the emotions that emanate from understanding and performing correctly, inspiring emotional pride in the performer. A major flaw is the failure to give the Act the ability to prevent offensive or derogatory use.

An excellent explanatory article on the The Haka Ka Mate Attribution Act.

Retention of copyright in tukutuku an encouraging stance

Lynell Tuffery Huria and Laura Carter of AJ Park have reported that the New Zealand government has negotiated for artists to retain copyright in forty three tukutuku panels, woven by artists from around the country, which now hang in the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York. This is a significant departure from the usual practice of the UN.The New Zealand government has stated this negotiation for retention of copyright by the artists is a reflection of New Zealand's commitment to the rights of, as signified by New Zealand signing the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010 (UNDRIP). Read more on


Many indigenous works of cultural importance, may technically be in the “public domain" because they are either very old or the “author” of the material cannot be identified. If you are going to use an indigenous work ensure your use of the material is in keeping with indigenous protocol and laws. It may be useful to read the Library's statement on Kaitiakitanga/Custodianship of Māori intellectual property in its collection.

Creative Commons Aotearoa NZ is currently developing an indigenous knowledge notice that Māori can use to release cultural works more openly.