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This page was last revised 19 March 2013
Our updated downloadable Make it Digital resource, Copyright terms and the public domain in New Zealand, provides an easy reference guide for anyone wanting to know what was out of copyright in New Zealand as of 1 January 2012. The aim is to update this annually as further content enters the public domain or as legislation changes.
Copyright is a legal protection for creators and publishers of original works that provides them with a monopoly for a fixed term over the copying, adaptation, and distribution of their works. With a small number of exceptions e.g. relating to some unpublished works held by institutions, indecency laws and privacy of living persons, when those fixed terms expire the original works fall into the public domain. At this point, permission or authorisation to copy, adapt or distribute the works is no longer needed from the former copyright owners.
The ability to make use of public domain material is a boon for users of digital technology, as it allows the digitisation, adaptation and re-publication of works for anyone to access, use and share. A rapidly growing interest in New Zealand history, culture and people means that there is also often demand for older material that can be searched for online, downloaded and put to free use.
No. As a consequence of recent extensions to copyright terms in Australia, the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom, New Zealand currently has some of the shortest terms for copyright in the English speaking world. A significant number of works created in 1961 or earlier are out of copyright in New Zealand - however, an equally significant number are still in copyright. This means that you cannot simply assume old material is out of copyright based on the year it was created or published - you will need to do some homework to confirm material really is in the public domain. You should also be aware that public domain content in New Zealand may still be in copyright for overseas users. Our Guide on Enabling Use and Re-use has some of the steps you can follow to establish material is really in the public domain.
Older material that is not in the public domain in New Zealand includes:
No. Where copyright terms require you to make a reasonable enquiry or a reasonable assumption of death, your research should be good enough to defend in a court of law if need be. We have some suggestions about the documented steps you might take to ensure your enquiry is reasonable in our main Guide.
This guide is designed to provide you with general information about New Zealand copyright terms and the public domain that is simpler to follow than reading the legislation. Its best use is as a tool to assist you to plan and develop your own policies and practices for dealing with out of copyright material. We have checked the information with lawyers and believe it to be accurate. However, the contents of this guide do not constitute legal advice and DigitalNZ is not responsible for any loss or damage caused as a result of following it. If you have specific issues or areas of doubt you should seek advice from a suitably qualified professional.
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