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Graphic designers, software developers, industrial engineers, artists and performers, and authors of scientific and literary work are some of the creators of valuable copyright work.  As very few copyright registers exist, and given that copyright exists upon creation of the work, a huge and unmanageable amount of IP exists which is difficult to protect or prove with exclusive rights, yet if copyright offers ownership rights, this is what authors and creators expect they have achieved.


Unlike patents and designs, copyright subsists automatically upon creation of the literary or artistic work, and the extent of artistic merit of the work does not need to be extensive. The main requirement for protection is that the creative work must be original work or not copied from another work.  Copyright confers on the copyright owner the exclusive right to reproduce the work, and the right to exclude or prevent anyone else from copying the work. 


Industrial copyright is a unique and separate form of IP protection in New Zealand and Australia and important for manufactures and industrial designers to understand.  It can offer protection for innovative and original industrial designs in New Zealand or elsewhere, and includes protection for design drawings, moulds and prototypes.  Infringement of industrial copyright created in 2D, such as in drawings, can occur if a substantial part of the industrially applied work is reproduced in 3D by way of copying a product. 


An emerging issue is with 3D printing which may well result in a new wave of copyright infringement actions where prototype or production blueprint designs are used in a manner never intended by the original copyright owner, with some possibly unique and highly functional designs being easily mass-copied worldwide, but for personal use without royalties payments to the owner of the copyright design blueprints.  Of concern is that as the 3D products have never been offered for sale per se, it would be difficult to trace user numbers, or enforce rights when the digital blueprint design can be easily published and shared quickly and effortlessly, and at no cost to users.   It may take a few years before IP laws protect IP involving such technological developments.  In the meantime, a window of opportunity exists for end users of this new 3D printing technology to replicate freely and without restraint, but only for personal use.


The term of copyright protection for industrially applied works varies according to the type of work to which the design has been applied.  Typically, protection lasts for 16 years from the date on which the design was first commercially applied anywhere in the world.  However, the term of industrial copyright may be reduced if the work is subject of a New Zealand patent or design registration which has lapsed.  In these circumstances, another party may well be able to copy the drawings of the lapsed patent or design registration without infringing copyright.  Contact us to discuss your design and copyright concerns as we are the IP law experts.


As independent creation provides a complete defence to copyright infringement, it is not always advisable to rely on copyright protection alone.  In addition, in infringement proceedings, copyright owners must prove that they own the copyright.  This can be difficult, especially if design sketches, original drawings, models and the like have been discarded.  We therefore recommend that a sufficient amount of material showing the development of the design is retained.  Other forms of protection such as design registrations or patents should be considered as these forms of protection offer monopoly protection.  We are available and ready to talk to you about your valuable IP or if you are unsure whether you are free to make a product or device that you think may infringe copyright.


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