Copyright, which is governed by the Copyright Act of 1962, is the exclusive right to do certain acts in relation to an original literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic work. These acts include reproducing the work in any material form, adapting, broadcasting, and publishing it, and performing it in public. Photographs, cinematograph films, sound recordings, and sound and television broadcasts also enjoy copyright protection.
The former provisions in New Zealand for the optional registration of copyright have disappeared. Registration was never necessary to the acquisition of copyright which exists automatically once a work is completed. Merit is irrelevant. Business letters, timetables, and commercial jingles are as much the subject of copyright as is a Sargeson story, a poem by Fairburn, or a symphony by Lilburn.
The present law is generally similar to that of the United Kingdom, but differs in detail. The Dalglish Committee, on whose 1959 report the new legislation is largely based, pointed out that New Zealand is predominantly a user rather than a producer of copyright works and that merely to copy the United Kingdom law would not meet local needs and conditions. The 1962 Act set up a Copyright Tribunal whose principal functions are to determine disputes as to royalties payable and the terms of licences for the public performance and broadcasting of works, and to grant licences for these purposes if the copyright owner unreasonably refuses them.
The general term of copyright in published works is the author's life and 50 years after his death, which is the normal term internationally. Copyright in photographs, films, sound recordings, and broadcasts continues for 50 years from the making. Literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works unpublished at their author's death are protected until publication and for 50 years thereafter, or until 75 years from death, whichever period first expires. This is a radical change from the former law under which copyright in unpublished works was virtually perpetual.
Another change from the old law and the present English law is that industrial designs which constitute original artistic works will enjoy unqualified copyright protection. Formerly a design intended for industrial reproduction and registrable under the Designs Act was excluded from the benefits of the Copyright Act. The results could be far reaching, since failure to register under the Designs Act meant complete loss of protection and registration was for a maximum term of 15 years.
Since 1928 New Zealand has adhered in its own right to the International Copyright Convention (the Berne Convention), the applicable text being the 1928 Rome Revision. It has not acceded to the later Brussels Revision. The effect of being a party to the Convention is that works created by New Zealand citizens or persons domiciled or resident in New Zealand, or first published in this country, are protected without formality in other member countries. These include almost all countries of the Commonwealth and Western Europe. In September 1964, New Zealand also acceded to the Universal Copyright Convention the principal effect of which has been to secure full copyright protection for New Zealand works in the United States.
by Bruce James Cameron, B.A., LL.M., Legal Adviser, Department of Justice, Wellington.