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, film or sound recording.

How do you get copyright?

Copyright is an automatic right that comes into existence when an original work is recorded or written down.

You don't have to register your work in New Zealand for it to be protected by copyright.

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 to 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 their work - including translating the work from one language to another, or converting computer code or language into a different computer code or language.
  • Sell or licence copyright of the work to another person or entity.

Owning copyright in your work


You own copyright in your essays, assignments, answers to exam questions, theses and dissertations.


You own copyright in:

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

Need more information?

You don't own copyright if you have:

  • Given copyright to a publisher.
  • Signed an agreement which assigns copyright to a 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) for payment.

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.

Types of works protected by copyright

  • 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.

Works that are not protected by copyright

  • New Zealand Bills, regulations, bylaws, Acts of Parliament or Parliamentary Debates.
  • 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 for which copyright has expired may be freely copied and published.

Crown copyright

Works created or owned by the New Zealand government.

  • 100 years from end of year in which work was made.
  • Crown publications and web pages can be freely copied, accessed, viewed, reproduced and printed for non-commercial purposes. You must credit the owner (e.g., Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment or IPONZ) and source (e.g., ISBN, ISSN, ISMN or web page address). See Crown Copyright

Literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works

  • 50 years from end of year in which author dies.

Joint authorship

  • 50 years after the last author dies.

Works of unknown authorship even if the author becomes known after the work enters the public domain

  • 50 years from end of year in which legally made available to the public.

Sound recordings and films

  • 50 years from end of year in which legally made available to the public.
  • 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.
  • If you intend to publish overseas you may need permission to use work which is in the public domain in New Zealand but may not be in other countries. In many other countries including Australia, the United States and European Union, copyright expires 70 years after the death of the author.

Computer generated works

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

  • 50 years from end of calendar year in which work is made.

Communication work

  • 50 years from the end of the year the work is first communicated to the public.

For unpublished literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works of unknown authorship produced before 1994

  • 50 years from the end of 1994.

Typographical arrangements of published works.

A new edition of work in which copyright has expired might be protected by copyright.

  • 25 years from the end of the year in which the edition first published.

What is the public domain?

You may freely use, copy and distribute material that is in the public domain. This includes:

  • Term of copyright has expired
  • Never in copyright
  • Creative Commons licensed. The copyright owner has given everyone a licence to use their work.