Copyright basics for authors and publishers

Here are a few basics that authors and publishers should know about copyright in New Zealand.

Copyright applies automatically.
Here in New Zealand, there is no registration system for copyright. Copyright applies the minute you first record your work – whether that’s in writing or in some other way. And while the © symbol is a useful reminder to others that your work is under copyright, it’s not necessary to protect your work.

What is protected by copyright and… what isn’t?
It’s the expression of your ideas in your written work that’s protected, not the ideas or the information themselves. So if you write a novel, someone else could write another work using your ideas and characters but express it totally differently and as a result not infringe your copyright.

What else? Well names, titles, single words and headlines are usually too small or unoriginal to be protected by copyright. So what does that mean for the 140 characters that make up a Tweet? Tricky question … and there isn’t one clear answer. Tweets are so short that it is difficult, although still possible, for a text-only Tweet to reach the level of creativity required for copyright protection.

Your rights as the copyright owner of a literary work.
If you have written an original work, then you own the copyright in it. It’s common to agree to license one or more of the following to your publisher, but if you haven’t then you have the exclusive right to:

  • Copy and publish your work
  • Communicate your work and perform/read it in public
  • Make an adaptation of your work (like a translation or a dramatisation)… or do any of the above activities in relation to an adaptation

How long does copyright last?
In New Zealand, copyright on literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works is in place for the lifetime of the creator of the material, and up to 50 years after their death.

Are there exceptions?
Yes. The Copyright Act does allow others to copy your work without your permission in certain circumstances. These apply in narrow circumstances only, but include:

  • Criticism, review and news reporting
  • Research and private study
  • Educational purposes
  • Public administrative purposes

So how does copyright licensing work?
Licensing helps to strike a balance between copyright owners’ rights and the needs of those wanting to access and copy part of a work only.

Reproduction Rights Organisations (RROs) like CLNZ are mandated (in our case through agreements with authors and publishers) to provide licences to educational facilities, businesses and government departments so that they can copy and share more than the limits set out by legislation (in New Zealand the Copyright Act 1994). Net proceeds from licences are then paid back to the copyright owners of the work copied (see ‘How we pay authors and publishers’).

How much can CLNZ licence-holders copy?
Our licences have clear guidelines. Licensees are permitted to copy:

  • Up to 10% or one chapter of a book
  • Up to 15 pages from a book of short stories or poetry book
  • 1 journal or periodical article

Take a look at the guide on copying that we provide to CLNZ licence holders, here

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