Copyright is a form of intellectual property (often referred to as “IP”). Other forms of intellectual property include trademarks, designs, and patents. These categories refer to different kinds of ideas which may not exist in a physical form that can be owned as property in the traditional sense, but may nonetheless have value to the people who created them. These forms of intellectual property can be owned in the same way that physical property is owned, but – as with physical property – they can be subject to dispute and proper documentation is required to prove ownership.
The different types of intellectual property divide into these categories as follows:
• Copyright: copyright protects creative output such as books, poems, pictures, drawings, music, films, etc. Any work which can be recorded in some way can be protected by copyright, as long as it is original and of sufficient length. Copyright does not cover short phrases or names.
• Trademarks: trade marks cover words and/or images which distinguish the goods or services of one trader from another. Unlike copyright, trademarks can cover names and short phrases.
• Designs: designs cover the overall visual appearance of a product, such as its shape, etc.
• Patents: patents protect the technical or functional aspects of designs or inventions.
The specifics of the legal protection surrounding these various forms of intellectual property will vary from nation to nation, but there are also generally international conventions to which a lot if not most of the nations of the world subscribe. The information provided below outlines the common situation in many countries but you should be aware that this may not reflect the exact situation in every territory.
The two types of intellectual property most relevant to writers are copyright and trademarks. If a writer has written a novel, a short story, a poem, a script, or any other piece of writing then the contents themselves can be protected by copyright. The title, however, cannot be protected by copyright as it is a name. An author may therefore feel that they wish to consider protecting the title of their work by registering it as a trade mark, if they feel that it is particularly important and/or more valuable in itself than the cost of registering a trade mark.
If a writer wants to register the copyright for their work, or register the title of their work as a trade mark, there are generally registration fees to be paid. Despite the fact that copyright covers long works that could be hundreds of thousands of words long, while trademarks cover single words and short phrases, the cost for registering a trade mark is likely to be many times higher than that for registering a work for copyright protection. This is because trademarks must be unique and are checked against existing trade marks for potential conflicts. While works to be registered for copyright must also not infringe existing works, it is not practical to check the huge volume of new works to be registered for copyright against the even larger volume of all previously copyrighted works. Copyright registration therefore tends to simply archive the work in question as proof of the date at which the person registering the work was in possession of it.
In the case of both copyright and trade marks the law generally provides some protection even without any kind of registration, but registration provides the owner of the intellectual property with greater and more enforceable protection. In the case of copyright, the creator of a work usually automatically owns the copyright as soon as the work is recorded in some way (i.e. by writing it down or recording it electronically, etc.), however these rights can be difficult to prove if disputed, and therefore many countries (such as the United States) also offer an internal country-specific means of registering works. Some countries, like the United Kingdom, do not offer any such means of registration, however an international registration is available through the Intellectual Property Rights Office’s Copyright Registration Service, and can be used regardless of any country-specific provisions. This can help protect copyright in all of the nations which are signatories of the Berne Convention (click here for a full list).
In the case of trade marks, the symbol “™” can be applied to any mark which is being used as a trade mark, however greater protection is provided if this mark is registered, in which case the symbol “®” can be applied to the mark. It is often illegal to apply the “®” symbol to a trade mark which has not been registered. There are also options for international registrations of trade marks, which are administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization, however applications cannot be made to the WIPO directly – applications must be made through the relevant office of the applicant’s country
Proper use of the copyright symbol
This page explains how to apply copyright notices to your work, and what the requirements and implications are.
The first thing to note is that for copyright there is only one form of the symbol (©), unlike trademarks, where there is a symbol for registered trademarks (®) and a symbol for unregistered trade marks (™).
To qualify for use of the registered trade mark symbol (®) you must register your trade mark with the appropriate authority in your country, whereas the trade mark symbol (™) can be applied to any symbol you are using as a trade mark. Use of the copyright symbol is more similar to use of the trade mark symbol, as work does not need to be registered in order to use it.
You can place the copyright symbol on any original piece of work you have created. The normal format would be to include alongside the copyright symbol the year of first publication and the name of the copyright holder, however there are no particular legal requirements regarding this. While it has historically been a requirement in some jurisdictions to include a copyright notice on a work in order to be able to claim copyright over it, the law does not allow such restrictions, and so any country signed up to the convention no longer has this requirement. However, in some jurisdictions failure to include such a notice can affect the damages you may be able to claim if anyone infringes your copyright.
A similar situation exists in relation to the phrase “All Rights Reserved”. This phrase was a requirement in order to claim international copyright protection in countries signed up to the 1910 Buenos Aires Convention. However, since all countries signed up to the Buenos Aires Convention are now also signed up to the Berne Convention (which grants automatic copyright) this phrase has become superfluous. The phrase continues to be used frequently but is unlikely to have any legal consequences.
Should I Copyright or Trademark My Logo?
There’s a ton of confusion around the question, “Can I copyright my logo?” To answer this question appropriately, it’s important to first identify the scope of protection you may be seeking, by distinguishing between trademarks and copyrights. Each type of legal registration serves different purposes, are obtained differently, and provide different types and levels of protection.
Generally, if you’re using your logo in relation to your business and you’re selling goods or services utilizing the logo, filing a trademark application should be at the top of your priority list. A trademark registration protects your consumer’s recognition of your logo identifying you as the source of your goods or services. You don’t want your consumers confused about this.
On the other hand, if your logo is unique and utilized in other ways aside from just selling your goods or services, you may want to also consider filing a copyright application for additional protection. A copyright registration protects the distinctive nature of your logo from being copied; as though it were a piece of art.
Let’s take a minute to break down the differences between copyright protection and trademark protection so that we can help you identify the protection you need.
Both forms of protection are usually available for a logo, protect different against different kinds of risks, and, depending on the circumstances, can likely be done properly by a good IP lawyer for under $800 or so. You can also get both forms of protection for $0 due to the fact that they both arise automatically under the law upon creation (copyright) and use in commerce (trademark). However, the benefits of registering your trademark or copyright — which is where the money comes in — usually are well worth the relatively small investment of money for a logo that will be a basis for a business’s branding.
The one thing I would add to James’ answer is that, if the logo was not created by you or an employee of you or a company you own, you’ll need to have whoever designed it sign an assignment / work-for-hire agreement to transfer the copyright to you. The general rule is that when a third party creates a copyrighted work, that person or company owns the copyright in the work unless the right kind of written (not oral) agreement is signed. This is so even if you paid the person money for the logo design and both of you believe that the logo now belongs to you. It’s a somewhat counter-intuitive rule that trips up a lot of people’s efforts to protect their IP.
What Does a Trademark Protect?
A trademark is typically a word, phrase, symbol, design, or combination of those, that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services in the market. Your logo is a trademark that identifies the goods or services you’re selling with your brand. Filing an application to register your trademark with the U.S. Trademark Office allows you to protect your trademark and prohibit others from using it on similar goods or services.
Your trademark distinguishes your goods or services from the competition. Consumers develop goodwill and consumer recognition when they see your trademark and want to buy your goods, or use your services again. Think Disney®, Toyota®, Apple® or Coke®. As the consumer, you have certain expectations and emotions pertaining to each brand, and your buying process is dependent upon your perception of the brand.
Typical items you might see with trademark protection include:
Since trademarks are used to identify a company or brand, it makes the most sense to file for trademark protection on the brand name, logo or image. By doing this, you can keep other people from using your logo, or one that is confusingly similar, to sell the same or similar things that you are selling. Trademarks protect anything that is perceived as confusingly similar in its sight, sound or meaning to your consumer. So, if you are investing in a brand image, you should seek a trademark registration to protect it. But, your image may also qualify for copyright protection as well.
What Does a Copyright Protect?
Copyrights can be obtained to protect an “original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression” from being directly copied by someone else. If your logo is an original, unique design creation that you’re using in other ways aside from selling your goods and services (i.e. your business provides training services but you also have your logo on t-shirts and other swag), you might want to also file a copyright application.
Generally, Copyrights protect things like pictures, songs, and software code from being copied by someone who you don’t want copying it. The copyright has no relationship with the goods or services being sold with it. While you may be able to copyright your logo, copyrights also protect:
If your logo is an original work of art that you have the rights to, like a computer rendered design, a drawing, photograph or painting, you could copyright it.
Free Initial Consultation with Logo Copyright Lawyer
When you have designed a logo or other intellectual property and you want to protect it, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506