Horse & Law Issue 10: Intellectual Property - Protecting Your Photographs

4 March 2015

From the Kihikihi Horse Trial to the Karaka Million, it doesn’t matter what the equine event is, people are taking photos. In today’s digital and social media culture where copying and sharing other people’s photos is as easy as clicking your fingers, what rights do you have to your photographs, and, importantly, how do you stop them being copied and shared?

While some people are happy for others to copy and share their photographs, there are others who want to protect their photographs from this. Copyright laws provide some assistance in this regard.Copyright, which is governed by the Copyright Act 1994, provides a bundle of exclusive rights to the copyright owner, including the rights to copy, show or use the work. In New Zealand there is no formal system of registering copyright, and copyright is instead an automatic right that comes into existence every time an original work is created, published and performed (including when a photograph is taken).

The copyright owner of a photograph will usually be person who took the photograph. However, there are two exceptions to be aware of:

1. Where the work is created in the course of employment, the employer will be the owner of the copyright; and

2. Where someone commissions and agrees to pay for a photograph, the commissioner will be the owner.

These positions can however be varied by agreement.

Subject to the above, photographs you take, at the Savile Cup for example, are therefore automatically covered by copyright. Owning copyright in a photograph is the first step to protection; however it will be up to you as the copyright owner to enforce your copyright, which is not always easy. In light of this, you may wish to take some preventative measures to reduce the risk that your photographs will be copied or shared without your permission. These can include, but are not limited to:

1. Placing a copyright statement on the photographs. This is not required by law, but it is useful in letting people know that you take copyright seriously, and that others do not have your permission to copy the photograph or deal with it in any other way that would infringe your copyright. A common form of copyright notice is the ©symbol, followed by the name of the copyright owner and the year the copyright work was first published. For example, ©Norris Ward McKinnon, 2014.

2. Placing a watermark on the photographs. This can help prevent and deter people from copying or publishing your photographs as they will not obtain a clear image.

3. Using information technology. IT experts have a number of technical options that they can offer to protect your photographs. Once option is putting a transparent image on top of the photographs so that anyone who tried to copy and/or save them would only have access to the transparent image. You may wish to discuss your options further with an IT expert.

If someone wants to copy, share, or use a photograph they should ask the copyright owner for a licence to use the photograph. If granted, the licence should specify the ways in which the photograph can be used.
Online sharing has become so easy and socially accepted that next time you post a photo to social media give some thought as to whether you are comfortable with people copying or otherwise using it. If you are not, we recommend you take steps to reduce the risk of your copyright being infringed.

This article is a very brief overview of copyright in photographs, and is not intended to cover every aspect of the law in this area, nor is it intended as a replacement for legal advice. Please feel free to contact Norris Ward McKinnon for more information and advice. We would be more than happy to assist.


Maria Ware is a Solicitor in the Commercial Corporate team at Norris Ward McKinnon. You can contact Maria at [email protected]

The Norris Ward McKinnon Equine Team endeavors to write articles that are beneficial to you whatever your involvement with equine. This issue discusses how written agreements can benefit all parties when buying, selling or leasing horses. The Norris Ward McKinnon Equine Team invites you to submit topics about equine matters you would like more information on so that we may write pieces useful to you. Please email topics or questions to Alice Nunn.