Image Rights and New Zealand Copyright Law

Mark Copeland LawyersGeneral News

“Copyright” refers to the right of someone to make copies of a particular material. If you hold copyright over something, no one can reproduce it in any way without your permission.

But do you hold the copyright over your own likeness? One would naturally assume that a person must hold absolute rights over their own image. The legal reality however is a little more complicated.

Broadly, things that occur naturally are unable to be copyrighted. There must be an element of the man-made for the creator to assert copyright. Your facial features, although unique to you, are a product of nature.

In practice however, there are options available to you to protect your image. Copyright can be asserted over photographs and is covered under the Copyright Act. If your image is used to promote a product or service without your consent, you have remedies under the Fair Trading Act to bring an action under the tort of “passing off.”

In the alternative, it is important for you to be aware of other’s copyright claims over materials you may want to reproduce or utilise in some way. Using such images without permission can incur heavy penalties under New Zealand law. Even when it may seem harmless to use the image – for example, if the image is of a historical figure who has long since passed away – it will normally be the case that the rights to that image has been passed on to an estate or organisation acting in the public interest (such as the National Library of New Zealand). They will need to be contacted so that permission can be obtained to use the image, particularly if it is planned to be used in a commercial setting.

Unless your work is wholly original and not derivative of existing works or images in any way, then it always pays to do the work up front and find out if you need to be worried about copyright. Contacting a lawyer is always advised.    

Mark Copeland Lawyers is a Rotorua based commercial law firm with a broad range of experience in corporate matters, rural property and resource management. Contact the firm for assistance or advice.