A Quick Guide to Copyright
30 August 2005
Copyright is one of the most important forms of intellectual property in use today. It is both automatic and free, and because of this it is widely relied upon. But it also seems to be widely misunderstood.
So what is copyright? And how does it apply to the work of Standards New Zealand?
Copyright is essentially the exclusive right to copy. Copyright exists in all New Zealand Standards and other documents published by Standards New Zealand (SNZ), and SNZ retains the exclusive right to make copies of those documents. When you buy a Standard, you are purchasing a copy of that Standard. The purchase doesn’t mean you’re entitled to make further copies yourself – it’s important to remember that having a copy isn’t the same as having the copyright.
Is it ever OK to copy?
There are some situations where the law allows copying of a document in which copyright exists. However, these exceptions are few, and none allow copying for business purposes. The short answer with regard to Standards,therefore, is that copying can only lawfully be done with the permission of the copyright owner – SNZ.
What if you just want to copy a portion of the document?
Again, the short answer is the same. Copying is against the law, and contrary to popular belief, there is no rule about how much of a document you can copy before you are at risk of breaking the law.
If you do get it wrong and make copies of a document without permission there can be serious consequences. In addition to the usual range of civil remedies available to the copyright owner, under the Copyright Act every person who infringes copyright may be liable to a fine not exceeding $50,000 or to imprisonment for a term not to exceed three months.
Why is copyright so important to Standards New Zealand?
Copyright is really no different to any other business asset. And in SNZ’s case it is the only significant income producing asset it has.
As SNZ is a not-for-profit organisation, and is not directly funded by Government, it relies on revenue from the sale of Standards and other publications.
This revenue helps to fund SNZ and the Standards development process. Any surplus will be re-invested in the business to add value for customers.
Copyright is no different to a factory used to make light bulbs, or a fleet of trucks to deliver freight. A lot of time, effort and financial investment have been incurred by Standards NZ to develop each one of its Standards – just like the light bulb manufacturer has invested a lot of time, effort and money in setting up their factory, or the freight company in setting up its fleet of trucks.
No legitimate business person would seriously contemplate taking over a light bulb factory for an hour or two without the manufacturer’s permission to make a few light bulbs for their own business’s use. Nor would they think is was acceptable to “borrow” a delivery van for a morning without paying so that they could deliver a few of their own packages. So why would it be OK to make a few copies of a Standard without permission?
What about committee members' intellectual property?
At times some SNZ committee members have expressed concerns that by contributing material to a Standard they may lose their rights to that material. This concern is misplaced.
SNZ manages the development of Standards through the contributions of independent expert committee members, and from others outside the committee process.
Committee members are encouraged to contribute already existing material towards developing Standards. This material is generally modifi ed by the committee for the purposes of the Standard, but the committee member retains copyright of the original material they have contributed.
They own the copyright on the original material in just the same way as SNZ owns the copyright on the new material (the Standard) that is produced by combining and modifying the contributions of many committee members.
SNZ therefore co-ordinates the production of Standards that have a separate, much wider value to the industry who have participated in its development.
Committee members, government organisations, trade associations, industry bodies and consumers all contribute towards, and benefit from, Standards.
To continue to exist, SNZ and the Standards development process rely on the sale of Standards and publications. Protecting SNZ copyright is therefore paramount.
Peter Verboeket is an intellectual property law specialist with over 15 years experience in this complex area, and advises Standards New Zealand on on copyright and intellectual property issues.