Student work contains copyright, both yours and other people's. There can be multiple copyrights in a single work: for example, a film might have separate copyright in the screenplay, the images, the music etc. It's the same for your essay or thesis: it contains your words & ideas but might also contain quotes from others' work, graphs, images, maps, etc. You don't own the rights to those parts, only those parts that you create. So, it's important to be clear about who owns what parts of a work.
You own material that you create
As you will see elsewhere on these pages, copyright in New Zealand is automatic and does not need to be registered or have a copyright symbol written on it. And as the creator of work as a student -- an essay, a graph or a creative work like a song or a film -- you own the copyright in it. This is specifically detailed for Graduate Research Students in the Intellectual Property Rights of Graduate Research Students Policy of the University (see Section 3). Note, though, that if your research was funded by an external agent then the terms of that research agreement would outline who would own the copyright (see Section 8 for more information).
Acknowledge material that you did not create
The standard academic practice of attributing your sources, generally speaking, matches what is required in terms of copyright. The way in which attribution is handled will vary according to your discipline, so seek advice on this from your department. The practice of quoting small excerpts of a text or other source is in keeping with fair dealing, which is a provision of copyright law that allows copying of 'insubstantial' parts of a work.
What can I copy for my own private research and study?
The Copyright Act has provisions for fair dealing for research and private study that allow you to copy insubstantial parts of materials.
Take care with material provided to you by your lecturers
Many of the materials you are provided with as part of your studies, such as a chapter from a book or a journal article, are copied under special licences paid for by the University. You can print off copies for yourself if the material is in electronic form. But beyond that you may not make extra copies or share the material with others in any way, unless the material in question is not under copyright, you have permission to do so or your use could be considered fair dealing.
Copyright and your thesis
If you are writing a thesis then you will need to know more about copyright. The University Library has provided very useful guidelines on the various aspects of copyright relevant to preparing a thesis for submission, including seeking permission for use material owned by others. It is important to ensure that you either are allowed to include something under fair dealing for the purposes of criticism or review or that you have permission from the copyright holder to use material. This is particularly so if you plan to publish your thesis in the Otago University Research (OUR) Archive, where your thesis may be available to anyone in the world with internet access.