Creation and ownership

Copyright protects original works, which are specific creative expressions rather than just creative ideas. New Zealand’s Copyright Act 1994 recognises literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, as well as sound recordings, films, communication works and typographical arrangements. An author typically obtains copyright of an original work as soon as that work is recorded in writing or in another format, such as a sound or video recording.

Works created under employment or commission


In general, the person who records an original work will be considered its author and first owner of copyright. However, the situation becomes more complicated when the author is employed or commissioned to record an original work. For example, an employer is the first owner of copyright in an original work made by an employee in the course of employment. Similarly, the commissioner (person paying for) various types of works will be the first owner of copyright in the commissioned work. These assumptions can be altered by contract. There can also be more than one author of an original work and more than one owner of copyright, with resulting implications about how that work can be dealt with.

The different rights of authors and owners


Authorship and ownership can become quite distinct and there are different rights attached to each. Ownership is typically linked to a bundle of copyrights (including exclusive rights to copy and publish), whereas authorship is typically linked to a bundle of moral rights (including the right to be identified and the right to object to derogatory treatment). It is also worth remembering that different rules of authorship and ownership can apply to different types of works.

Avoiding uncertainty


Uncertainties about authorship and ownership can often lead to disputes over control and commercialisation of original works. In most cases it is worth considering a written agreement to ensure certainty for everyone involved.

If you want to legally transfer (assign) ownership of a copyright work, it is a requirement to record that assignment in writing. It is therefore very important for copyright owners to keep good records of creation and assignments.

If you would like to talk to us about authorship or ownership concerns, please contact one of our team.

Meet our experts

  • Joseph Bracewell
    Solicitor, Auckland

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    Head of Dispute Resolution, Auckland

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    Senior Associate, Wellington

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