Copyright in artistic objects/3D objects

One of the most important areas of copyright at present is the copyright in an artistic work.

Copyright resides in any artistic work, irrespective of the artistic merit of the work and the term “artistic work” includes engineering drawings, however informal.  The copyright in an artistic work is infringed, not only by the unauthorized reproduction of the drawing itself, but also by the unauthorized reproduction of a three dimensional product which reproduces the two dimensional drawing.

It follows from this that the person who copies an article that is a reproduction of a copyright drawing infringes the copyright in that drawing.  In practice, this means that if a manufacturer copies the product of another manufacturer, and the product which is copied was made from an original artistic work, then copyright infringement has occurred even though the infringer may never have seen the drawings which he is indirectly infringing.

The Copyright Act limits the above form of infringement.  If an artistic work is not a work of artistic craftsmanship and has been applied industrially for more than 16 years, then reproduction of that work in three dimensions by another person is no longer an infringement of the copyright in that work.  Thus, products that have been on the market for more than 16 years and are protected only by copyright may be copied.

Also, the drawings of expired or lapsed New Zealand patents and registered designs may be copied without copyright infringement.  However the reproduction must be from the patent or registered design drawings, not from the commercial product.

A majority of countries do not recognise copyright in the design of three-dimensional industrial products.  If you are considering exporting, please contact us to discuss the best strategy for your target market(s).

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