Copyright & Legal FAQ

Q. What is copyright?

A. Copyright is a set of rights that creators of original works get when they make a work. These allow them to decide how their work is used while they are alive and for a period after their death.

Copyright protects the expression of an idea and it is automatic. So if you create something, you own the rights to it. 

Q. What does this mean for me?

A. If you want to use other people’s creative works in your film then you need their permission in writing. This includes artwork, music, poetry, writing and other creative works. It also includes performances by actors and musicians.

If they have passed on, the copyright remains with their estate for 50 - 70 years (this varies by country). There can also be multiple copyright owners in a work so a song may have a writer and performers who all need to give permission. The best place to find out information about copyright is the NZ Intellectual Property Office.

So how do I avoid issues?

A. It’s really easy — make it all yourself, or get permission from the people who made it. Get release forms from everyone who appears in your film and all the locations. Use music you or your friends have made or from sites where you can buy a license to use it. 

Q. What is public domain footage in regards to audio and visual recordings?

A. The public domain is a range of abstract materials commonly referred to as intellectual property which are not owned or controlled by anyone. The term indicates that these materials are "public property" and available for anyone to use for any purpose.

This includes works that are out of copyright - e.g. the first iteration of Mickey Mouse in "Steamboat Willie" just came into the public domain in January 2024.

It also includes works that people have explicitly placed in the public domain - giving permission for their creations to be used - e.g. NASA makes much of its imagery and footage publically available be used and some video games companies allow for recordings of their games to be used and shared.

Q. What is Creative Commons licensing?

A. Creative Commons licences make it easy for people to share their copyright works using conditions they specify. This means that there is a lot of creative material online with Creative Commons licenses that you may be able to use. There is more information about the licenses and links to sites of images, sound and music on the Creative Commons website. Make sure you read about the licenses and check that you’re using work with the right kind of licenses as the kind of use allowed varies.

Q. Is everything on the internet ok to use?

A. No way.

Release Forms

Q: The rules mention that I need release forms, what are they and why do I need them and where can I get them?

A. A release form is an agreement to prove you have permission from people, locations or composers to use them, their property or their work in your film. Release forms are available on the paperwork page.

Q: Do I need a release form for everyone in my film? What if it's just someone walking past on the street?

A: Yes. However, on a practical level, if you are shooting in a public place and people are walking past and they can't be recognised, then don't get too fussed. The rule of thumb is if you can easily identify someone and there's a chance they might not like being in your film, then get them to sign a form.

Q. Will I have to bring all these release forms in with me when I hand the film in?

A. No. You still need to collect and keep them but you'll tick a box on the Online Wrap Up, that confirms that you have the necessary release forms for your film. If you don't do this, then we can't accept your film. You may be asked for them later, if your film is going to be broadcast or screened elsewhere.


Q. Is there public liability included in our fee for 48Hours?

A. No there isn't. 48Hours is covered by its own insurance in case anyone attempts to sue us for your bad behaviour.

Shooting what is a home movie does not neccessarily require you to get public liability insurance, however some public locations may require it for permitting and you will need to deal with them on a case by case basis. If you're planning on doing anything that involves a lot of vehicles, generators, big rigs, lighting, high voltage anything - stuff that could be hazardous - then yes you should look into insurance.


Q. Okay finally, what can and can't we do with mocking/imitating/copying other motion pictures in 48Hours?

A. Well the long answer is...

The Copyright Act 1994 permits certain acts being performed in relation to copyrightable works. Pertinently to the case of Parody is s42 - Criticism, review and news reporting, in particular, subsection (1) which deals with fair dealing. Parody presents a particular problem for copyright law. While parody is acknowledged as a culturally appropriate way to criticise the worth of a particular work, as well as criticising the philosophy behind a particular work and society in general, parody doesn't fit easily within the framework of s42. Parodies can affect the market for originals in essentially in 2 ways: Firstly, the criticism of a work can garrotte the original thus destroying it commercially as well as artistically. Secondly, the work may replace the original in the market or a derivative market.

Notwithstanding, it is the context and the critical content of the parody that may make all the difference in determining possible infringement of copyright. There is no humour defence for copyright infringement, as relates to parody only s42. Some suggestions in order to minimise the risk of copyright infringement and by doing so stay within a margin of safety: Be careful to ensure that the purpose of the parody is to criticise. The parody should try and make a social commentary which is at least in part directed to the subject matter of the original film (and usually done in a humorous way) and done so in such a way as to not likely hurt the value of the original film. Use the original film to get your message away in a constructive way. Don't take more from the original film than is necessary to make your point. In essence, the criticism of ideas prevalent in society seems to be sufficient so as to pass the copyright test.

Moral Rights

Not only is there is a clash with the economic rights of the copyright owner, but also a potential clash with the moral rights of the original creator (that being the right of such creator to object to a derogatory treatment of their work). One needs to be wary of this and take a commonsense approach to what work they are parodying and what is a proper and constructive way to do so.