Monday, 14th May, 2018

Private members bill to amend the New Zealand Copyright Act 1994

At the start of this month, opposition and National MP Simeon Brown proposed a private Members Bill to amend the Copyright Act 1994 to allow for fair dealing of copyrighted work for the purpose of parody or satire. New Zealand’s copyright laws don’t currently provide for such an exception, unlike other jurisdictions including the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. The Bill would amend the current exception for fair dealing with a work for the purposes of criticism or review to include use of the work for ‘parody or satire’ which is similar to the law in Australia.

This isn’t the first time the ideas been broached. Green MP Gareth Hughes proposed a similar members Bill back in 2011 which never got traction. Hughes’s Bill also used the slightly different language found in the UK legislation which allows fair dealing for the purposes of ‘caricature, parody or pastiche’. At the time, Labour's Shane Jones (now an MP with Labour’s coalition partner New Zealand First) was quoted in one media report as suggesting that the changes proposed by Hughes’s Bill will ‘lead to the destruction of jobs’ and ‘could let "economic vandals" harm companies' brands’ which makes it a ‘crackpot idea’. While Mr Jones’ comments haven’t necessarily played out that way in the United States, Australia, and UK, copyright owners may rightly be worried about what the impact of this kind of exception could have on their copyright works.

Brown’s Bill wasn’t drawn in the latest ballot on 3 May, and in the writer’s view while the Bill draws attention to the issue, it’s unlikely to gain much traction with the Government’s coalition partner, New Zealand First, given Mr Jones is now the Regional Economic Development Minister. Further, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is currently undertaking a review of the Copyright Act 1994, so the Bill seems a little premature. MBIE’s review is likely to consider whether a ‘parody or satire’ exception is warranted amongst a number of other issues. The objectives for the review are to:

  • assess how well the Copyright Act 1994 is meeting our objectives for copyright
  • identify any barriers to achieving the objectives and how these affect creators, publishers, distributors, users and consumers
  • put together a plan to address any issues that we identify.

MBIE is currently preparing an issues paper, which is likely to be released for public consultation mid-2018, which is drawing close.

We’ll continue to follow and report on the progress of the review, and please contact us if you would like advice about any aspects of copyright law or would like assistance with preparing submission on the issues paper once it is released.