Copyright Information

What is copyright?

The term “copyright” is a catch-all term, referring to a bundle of rights assigned to the creator of an original literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work, as well as broadcasts, sound recordings, films, cable programmes and typographical arrangement.

What are these rights?

Under the Copyright Act 1994, the copyright holder has exclusive legal rights to the following:

  • Copying of the work;
  • Publishing, issuing or selling copies of the work to the public;
  • The right to perform the work in public;
  • Playing the work in public;
  • Showing the work in public;
  • Broadcasting the work or including the work in a cable programme service;
  • Making an adaptation of the work or doing any of the above activities in relation to an adaptation; and
  • Authorising any other person to do any of the restricted activities listed above.

Some limited exceptions may be made to these in the case of “fair dealing”, “research or private study” or “educational purposes” (for finer detail, visit which includes a downloadable copy of the Copyright Act)

What if someone wants to perform or broadcast my work? Do they need copyright?

Not copyright, no. The author of an original work should generally always retain copyright. What the performer or broadcaster must do is (in theory) apply for a licence to undertake any activity that might infringe your copyright (for example, performing or broadcasting a work). For performers, this is also known as “performing rights”; for radio stations, this would be “communication rights”. Usually this licence will come in the form of paying the composer some fee for use of the work.

What? Performers have to apply for a licence and pay a fee every time they play a piece?

In theory, yes. Of course, in practice this would become very time-consuming for both the copyright holder to respond to all requests or for all performers to apply for a licence, and the whole thing would be stupid. So various organisations have been set up to make the whole thing easy.

What are these organisations and what do they do?

The main rights administration organisation in New Zealand is APRA, the Australasian Performing Right Association. This is a non-profit organisation whose main purpose is to help organise the granting of licences, collect “royalties” and distribute them to composers.

What are royalties? How much are they worth?

Royalty fees are licence fees for using a copyright work in some way that would normally infringe the copyright (such as performing or broadcasting that work). They typically range from about $5 for a small live performance to thousands of dollars for a big international radio or TV broadcast. An average working composer with regular commissions and occasional broadcasts and performances can expect to earn anywhere from $200–$1500 annually, but your mileage may vary.

So, do performers have to buy a licence from APRA every time they want to play a New Zealand work?

Sometimes. Some venues own a licence for copyrighted music to be played or broadcast there — others don’t. It is up to performers to ensure that they are licenced or are performing in a licenced venue (check the venue contract). Further information about these licenses is available on the APRA website.

What about the performers that commissioned me? They shouldn’t have to pay a licence fee.

Well, they’ll be paying the venue’s set hire fee irrespective of whether you want to waive them any licence fee or not, so it doesn’t make much difference to them.

What about a performer who wants to photocopy my score or parts?

Ah, now that’s an entirely different kettle of fish, and comes under the other sort of copyright: “copying of the work”. In most cases they should seek your permission, and pay you a fee to do that (or they should just buy a new score).

If they’re just making a “backup” of parts for scribbling on, then that might come under “fair dealing”. But they should either buy a set of parts, or hire them from you (particularly for works with more than three or four parts). Hiring is obviously better for the composer, as you get another fee every time it’s performed.

Often publishers will set their own hire fee, but if you’re hiring privately, you should set a moderate fee. Of course, for longer orchestral works with many parts, this hire fee should be quite substantial, on the order of $500–$600 (see our commissioning page for fees guidelines of part hire). The NZSO, for example, have a set rate for part hire from non-published scores.

Do I need to obtain a licence to set poetry?

If your piece is going to have a public performance (i.e. outside of a private or educational setting), then you need to apply for permission from the poet or their publisher to do this. If you make any money from your piece, they may want a cut as well. Most poets are very agreeable — but not all!