What is copyright?

The term “copyright” refers to a monopoly right granted to a person who creates an original work such as a literary work, artwork, musical work or film or sound recording. You don't have to register your work in New Zealand for it to be protected by copyright. Copyright is an automatic right that comes into existence every time an original work is recorded or written down.

The following table outlines categories of works protected by copyright and the types of works included in each of these categories.

Category Type of work
Literary work Any work, other than a dramatic or musical work, which is written, spoken or sung. Includes tables, compilations and computer programmes.
Dramatic work Includes a work of dance or mime and a scenario or script for a film.
Musical work A work consisting of music, but does not include the words intended to be sung or spoken with it, or any actions intended to be performed with the music.
Artistic work A graphic work, photograph, sculpture, collage or model, irrespective of artistic quality; a work of architecture that is a building or model of a building, or works of artistic craftsmanship (industrial prototypes).
Communication work A transmission of sounds, visual images, or other information, or a combination of any of those, for reception by members of the public and includes television and radio broadcasts, cable programmes and materials made available on the internet.

Sound recordings, films, performances and typographical arrangements of published editions are also protected by copyright.

Generally speaking copyright protects the expression of an idea, but not the idea itself or facts or data, although a compilation of data will be protected.

Copyright owners have exclusive rights in relation to their work to:

  • Copy – reproduce, scan, record, download and store.
  • Issue copies to the public – distribute or sell copies to the public or upload a copy onto the Internet.
  • Perform, play or show the work in public.
  • Communicate their work to the public including radio and television broadcasts and internet webcasts.
  • Adapt includes translating the work from one language to another and includes converting computer code or language into a different computer code or language.
  • Sell or licence copyright of the work to another person or entity.

Do I own copyright in my work?


You own copyright in your essays, dissertations, answers to examination questions and theses. Need more information check the policy here: Intellectual property created by staff and students policy

Staff members

As a staff member you will own copyright in:

  • Monographs, journal articles, books or conference papers, instructional material, be aware that the University retains some rights to use these works where they are produced in whole or in part in the course of a staff member’s employment or using University resources.  
  • Unless separately commissioned by the University independently of your employment, you will also own copyright in plays, paintings and sculptures; and musical works and their lyrics;

Need more information check the policy here: Intellectual property created by staff and students policy

You may not own copyright

If you have :

  • Signed an agreement which assigns copyright to a publisher or research funder
  • Created the work for your employer as part of your employment agreement or a work for hire agreement
  • Been commissioned to produce the work (other than a literary work) and you have been paid, or have been promised payment to produce the work;
  • Died and the beneficiaries of your estate have inherited copyright in the works you still own copyright in at the time of your death.

You may jointly own copyright if you have collaborated with another person to produce a work and the contributions of each of the authors cannot be separated out.

Some works are not protected by copyright

  • New Zealand Bills, regulations, bylaws, Acts of Parliament or Parliamentary Debates are not protected by copyright.
  • Reports of select committees, judgments of any court or tribunal, reports of Royal commissions, commissions of inquiry, ministerial inquisitions or statutory inquiries; or reports of any inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2013.

How long does copyright last?

Material in which copyright has expired may be freely copied and published.

Term of copyright Type of work
100 years from end of year in which work is made Crown copyright - this means works created by employees or contractors for Government Departments
50 years from end of year in which author dies Literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works
50 years after the last author dies Joint authorship
50 years from end of year in which legally made available to the public* Works of unknown authorship even if the author becomes known after the work enters the public domain
Sound recordings and films
50 years from end of calendar year in which work is made

Computer generated works

Sound recordings and films unless legally made available to the public before copyright expires

50 years from the end of the year the work is first communicated to the public Communication work
50 years from the end of 1994 For unpublished literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works of unknown authorship produced before 1994
25 years from the end of the year in which the edition first published Typographical arrangements of published works. Note: this can mean a new edition of work in which copyright has expired is protected by copyright

*Depending on the type of work, a work may be made available to the public by being performed, communicated, exhibited or by being played or shown.

Note that if you intend publishing articles or a book overseas you may need to get permission to use work which is in the public domain in New Zealand but may not be in other countries, as in many other countries including Australia, the United States and European Union, copyright expires 70 years following the death of the author.