Alalääkkölä v Palmer: New Zealand Courtroom of Attraction considers whether or not copyright could be thought-about relationship property – Nexus Vista

Picture by Shayna Douglas on Unsplash

In February 2024, the Courtroom of Attraction in New Zealand (the Courtroom) issued a judgment on a long-running matter between a separating couple seeking to kind out their property. The appellant, Ms Alalääkkölä, was an artist who had created copyrighted works all through her profession. Her former partner, Mr Palmer, argued that the copyright in these works shaped a part of the couple’s joint relationship property. Ms Alalääkkölä disagreed, believing it to be her separate property.

So as to decide whether or not copyright could be thought-about relationship property, the Courtroom checked out how copyrighted works would possibly fall beneath the scheme of the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 (PRA). This can be a novel level of legislation and it’s the first time the New Zealand courts have needed to take into account the connection between the PRA and the Copyright Act 1994.


Equal distribution beneath the PRA

One of many key goals of the PRA is to recognise that not all contributions to a wedding are monetary and that the equal contribution of each spouses ought to be honoured. According to this objective, the default place is that the events are entitled to share equally within the relationship property.



Earlier than assembly Mr Palmer in 1996 and marrying him the 12 months after, Ms Alalääkkölä had loved success as a painter. A graduate of the Academy of Wonderful Arts in Finland, she attended a grasp’s program at New York College on a prestigious Fulbright scholarship. Her work was displayed on the Finnish Nationwide Gallery, amongst different artwork collections.

After 20 years of marriage, Ms Alalääkkölä and Mr Palmer separated in 2017. In response to Ms Alalääkkölä, contributions to the wedding weren’t even. The “promising artwork profession” she had developed needed to be sacrificed for the great of the household. By the late Nineteen Nineties her work grew to become the primary supply of revenue. This turned her right into a self-described “portray machine” and the model of her artwork mirrored a extra business character. The couple had at no level contracted out of the PRA.

Mr Palmer disagreed with Ms Alalääkkölä’s characterisation. The wedding he recalled was one the place each contributed to the business success of the artwork. Ms Alalääkkölä was the artist, however Mr Palmer commercialised the work. This included selling and advertising and marketing the work, in addition to creating artwork playing cards and prints on the market.


How can copyright be categorized?

When the couple cut up, Mr Palmer acknowledged his intention to proceed the printing enterprise. Ms Alalääkkölä argued that these had been her copyrighted works and Mr Palmer couldn’t proceed to revenue from them. Ms Alalääkkölä’s concentrate on the copyright side of the works was an essential level for the Courtroom to think about. If copyright will not be property beneath the PRA, as Ms Alalääkkölä argued, then it stood to motive that Mr Palmer couldn’t then obtain them as relationship property.


Selections of the decrease courts


Household Courtroom

The matter was first heard within the Household Courtroom. There, Decide Grace discovered the copyright to be the separate property of Ms Alalääkkölä. The works themselves had been classed as “relationship property”, however the copyright had been derived from her talent and authorship. These had been accrued pre-relationship.


Excessive Courtroom

On the Excessive Courtroom, Mr Palmer efficiently appealed the choice. Justice Isac discovered at [36] that specializing in the talent behind the creation of the copyright works, quite than the property created, didn’t align with the main focus of the PRA. Justice Isac then identified that every one sorts of property can exist that stem from expertise acquired previous to a relationship’s graduation. Therefore, the Courtroom dominated in favour of Mr Palmer.

Ms Alalääkkölä utilized for go away to the Courtroom of Attraction. The Excessive Courtroom referred to as the difficulty a stay query with potential penalties for the broader artistic neighborhood, in addition to New Zealand’s relationship property legislation. Seeing it as a novel level of legislation (at [11]), the Excessive Courtroom granted go away.


Courtroom of Attraction

On the Courtroom of Attraction, Justice Katz for the unanimous Courtroom thought-about three questions:

  • Is copyright “property” for the needs of the PRA?
  • If the copyrights are property, how ought to they be categorized when it comes to the PRA?
  • If the copyrights are property, how ought to they be handled when it comes to the PRA?


Is copyright “property” for the needs of the PRA?

The Courtroom first thought-about the scope of the notion of property beneath the PRA. The Courtroom famous that part 2 of the PRA contains the class “some other rights or pursuits”. Copyright, as acknowledged by part 14 of the Copyright Act, is clearly a property proper. The Courtroom agreed with the selections of the decrease courts that copyright is roofed beneath part 2 of the PRA.


Is copyright separate property or relationship property beneath the PRA?

If copyright had been to be categorized as separate property, then Ms Alalääkkölä must present that she had accrued them previous to the connection. Ms Alalääkkölä’s argument then was that her property curiosity within the copyright was naturally sure to her expertise as an artist. The event of those expertise had occurred throughout her research and work previous to assembly Mr Palmer.

Nonetheless, the Courtroom held that copyright was relationship property. The property pursuits sure with copyright are wholly distinct from the abilities essential to create copyright. The Courtroom at [43] additionally agreed with the Excessive Courtroom’s evaluation on the connection between expertise and property:

Many expertise are gained by folks earlier than marriage who then go on to make use of these expertise throughout marriage to provide or purchase property. This doesn’t put the property so produced or acquired past the attain of the PRA.


How ought to copyright be handled beneath the PRA, to make sure an equal division of relationship property?

Having discovered that the copyright within the works was the connection property of the events, the Courtroom sought to find out how the division of the property would happen. Division by a courtroom may happen in one in every of two methods: (a) the copyright is split between the events; or (b) Ms Alalääkkölä retains possession of the copyright. The latter would contain a compensating adjustment made to make sure an general equal division of the connection property.

Ms Alalääkkölä was firmly of the view that she ought to retain the copyright in its entirety. Because the creator of the works, it was crucial that she defend her creative integrity and future skilled pursuits. Transferring any of the copyright to Mr Palmer may simply result in a scenario the place her repute and enterprise may very well be negatively harmed. Ms Alalääkkölä expressed her concern that Mr Palmer would flood the market with low-cost prints and merchandise, creating apparent problems in her bid to stay a revered artist.

The Copyright Act addresses this situation. A core operate of the copyright scheme is to grant the creator of a piece unique management of that work. At part 98, authors preserve their ethical rights; consequently, they’re entitled to intervene if the works they authored are being topic to derogatory therapy. It could due to this fact be Ms Alalääkkölä’s proper to stop the mass replication of her works.

In gentle of this, the Courtroom noticed this example as one which might go in opposition to the “clear break” precept. That’s, it could restrict Ms Alalääkkölä’s alternative to operate independently of the property held by Mr Palmer. Permitting Ms Alalääkkölä to retain possession of her copyright would improve the prospects of the events having the ability to transfer on with their lives.

Nonetheless, this didn’t change the classification of the copyright as relationship property. This implies Mr Palmer continues to be entitled to compensation. The quantity which he’s to be granted will likely be thought-about by the Household Courtroom in a future listening to because the Courtroom of Attraction remitted the matter on this level.

On 9 Might, the Supreme Courtroom granted go away to Ms Alalääkkölä to attraction the Courtroom of Attraction’s choice.



As a property worth, copyright is difficult to evaluate for the needs of the PRA. Not solely is copyright intangible however it’s topic to its personal piece of governing laws, the Copyright Act. This grants ethical rights to copyrighted works.

As a result of most types of property don’t include ethical rights, classification of property as relationship property is comparatively simple beneath the PRA. Nonetheless, critical problems happen when a former partner is ready to management photographs they didn’t create. As Ms Alalääkkölä retains ethical rights, she may object to any appropriation made by Mr Palmer. Nonetheless, that is impractical when contemplating the “clean-break” precept.

These elements make the switch of copyrighted works a tough process. If the Supreme Courtroom agrees with the Courtroom of Attraction, then this consideration will must be made going ahead for courts and different dispute decision suppliers.

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