We were recently asked why a company should register a trademark over their logo when they it could simply be protected by copyright law. People often confuse trademarks and copyrights, and while it is true that their protections can overlap, the two have very distinct purposes. We therefore decided to go over the differences between the two so you can have a better understanding of how they work and how they’ll each protect you.
Please use this as general information, not as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding the scope of copyright and trademark protections, please consult an attorney.
What is copyright?
Copyright law is an intellectual property protection for original works. This includes a variety of artistic works such as music, plays, photography, literature, and more.
What are trademarks?
Trademarks is another form of intellectual property protection that covers amongst other things, words, images, sounds, and other elements that distinguish a company’s goods and services from another’s. For instance, the Nike swish is a registered trademark that allows Nike to distinguish itself from its competitors.
How long is protection granted for in each case?
Copyright usually lasts for the author’s life + 70 years. Trademark protection, on the other hand, lasts for a period of 10 year, which is renewable.
Which one will protect my logo?
As mentioned previously, copyright protects original works while trademarks are used to protect elements that distinguish one company’s goods or services from another’s. This means that anything that could be protected by copyright law needs to have a minimum of creativity and originality. Although copyright law’s originality requirement is not very strict, not all logos can claim to be original and therefore be protected by copyright.
Also, many logos are not solely composed of artistic works. In fact, copyright law does not protect elements such as words, slogans, colors, and fonts, which are elements often used to distinguish different brands within an industry. This means that if you decide to rely upon copyright law to protect your branding, you most likely will only be partially protected.
On the other hand, trademark law will not necessarily stop anyone from using your brand name. This is because copyrights and trademarks have two very distinct purposes: copyrights prevent plagiarism, while trademarks prevent consumer confusion. Consumer confusion is the reason why some companies are able to exist while having a name that is very similar to another’s.
A good example of that is Dove. Your first instinct was probably to think about the personal care brand. However, Dove is also a chocolate brand. Why can the two coexist without any legal issues? It’s because the likelihood of consumer confusion is very low: how likely is it for someone to think that Dove, the personal care brand, now makes chocolate and vice-versa?
So which one should I go for?
Ideally, you should register your trademarks. Even though copyright law and trademark law can overlap in some situations (if we are talking about an illustration in a logo), chances are copyright law will not protect your entire branding. As mentioned previously, trademark protection is meant to prevent consumer confusion, and if your goal is to create a distinctive brand with a strong identity for your consumers, trademark registration is your best bet.
As with all Law on the Runway posts, please use this as general information, not as legal advice. If you have any questions regarding how copyright and trademark apply to your work, you may email hello[at]lawontheruway.com.