Retention of copyright in tukutuku an encouraging stance

Article  \  20 Feb 2015

Forty three tukutuku panels (a distinctive art form of the Māori people of New Zealand), woven by artists from around the country, now hang in the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York.

Significantly, the UN has agreed the artists retain copyright in the works, which is a departure from its usual practice.

The New Zealand government has stated this negotiation for retention of copyright by the artists is a reflection of New Zealand's commitment to the rights of, as signified by New Zealand signing the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010 (UNDRIP).

Article 31 of UNDRIP maintains that indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. It also requires the New Zealand government to take effective measures, in conjunction with Māori, to recognise and protect the exercise of these rights.

The negotiation by the New Zealand government that the copyright in the works be retained by the artists is a positive step towards appreciating the value of copyright in Māori artworks, and recognition of the rights granted under UNDRIP.

However, copyright in new artworks created by Māori artists is an automatic consequence of New Zealand's copyright law. 

To demonstrate the government's commitment to recognising Māori intellectual property rights, as articulated in article 31 of UNDRIP, it would be great to see moves towards exploring protection for existing, older works.

We remain hopeful of an official government response to the recommendations of the Waitangi Tribunal in the Wai 262 report, and further steps being taken to recognise Māori intellectual property rights in New Zealand.