What is a copyright?
A copyright protects works of fully formed artistic expression and authorship. The classic example of a copyright is a literary work, such as a novel or a poem.
However, copyright protection expands to music, including the lyrics, musical composition and even live performances, artwork, dramatic pieces, and even architectural design. A copyright grants the exclusive rights to publish, sell and reproduce the work of art.
The moment you create a fully formed piece of art or authorship, you own the copyright to it. But in a case where someone plagiarizes your work, you’ll have to be able to prove that you created the material first and that the other person copied it from you.
By registering an actual copyright with the United States Copyright Office, you best protect your unique material from being copied by others.
First, it creates more of a deterrent for the plagiarist. If he or she sees the copyright symbol next to your work or otherwise confirms that you own the work, he or she is less likely to copy it in the first place.
Second, you’re protected even if the plagiarist goes forth with copying your work. If he or she is unaware you have registered the copyright, or is willing to take the risk of copying it even with a registration in place, it is easier to prove your ownership and access the legal remedies available to you.
Can I Protect My Company’s Logo with a Copyright?
A logo is a unique design that distinguishes a company or product. Logos are fully formed expressions that can include images and/or text, and would seem to fall under copyright law.
Logos, however, are generally protected by trademarks. The purpose of a trademark is to protect what identifies your business or product to the consumer public. This includes the name of the company or product and any images, symbols, sounds or phrases that distinguish your company or product. Thus, a logo falls under a trademark.
It is important to remember that a trademark must be something that distinguishes your company, product or service, so it cannot be something too generic. (This comes from the body of law that regulates trademark law, The Lanham Act.)
Again, once your company begins doing business under a unique name and using a unique logo, it has the right to use that name and logo. Still, registering your trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office will better protect you from other competitors using your logo on their products and to conduct their business.
When Should I Get a Copyright Logo?
In addition to registering a trademark for your logo, you may also copyright the logo for additional protection. This is common in very large businesses. Companies such as Apple or Coca Cola have logos that gain instant, global recognition. So the symbol of the logo itself is highly distinguishable and profitable.
Not only is it common for these companies to sell merchandise featuring their logos, they also make an incredible profit from selling the rights to allow others to copy or reproduce their logos. The option to let others copy and print your logo in certain circumstances is protected by your copyright.
A logo that involves complicated design and artistic expression that a company also prints and sells on merchandise, such as mugs, hats or t-shirts, would be a candidate for copyright logo protection. This can protect that logo from being printed, copied and distributed by others. If you think your logo is exceptional and others will want to copy it, adding a copyright protection would be prudent.
The Step-by-Step Trademark Process
- The first step, of course, is to either have your logo created or to otherwise have an idea of the logo you would like to create. Be sure your logo is distinguishable and not so generic that it may not qualify for trademark registration.
- Next, and most importantly, you will want to search the trademark registry on the USPTO database. You need to be sure that your mark, or one that is similar, has not been already registered.
- Confirming your mark is unique and distinguishable, you may now prepare and submit your trademark application with the USPTO.
- As a final step in your trademark application process, you will need to submit the appropriate registration fee. There is not a fixed fee.
- Monitor your application once you have submitted it. The USPTO usually takes several months to review an application. The USPTO has a Trademark Status and Document Retrieval website that you may visit during this time to see how it is going.
- You will receive your registered trademark after the application is approved. At this time, you may begin to use the registered trademark symbol every time you use your logo to help ensure it is protected.
- Even once you receive your trademark registration for your logo, you must maintain it. You will have to file more maintenance related documents with the USPTO office as time goes on.
The trademark process is complicated and every part of the process would best be navigated with the assistance of a trademark lawyer. He or she can ensure you are making decisions with all the necessary legal considerations. In the long run, you’ll have the best protections for your logo this way.
The Step-by-Step Logo Copyright Process
- The first step, of course, is to create the logo. The Copyright Office accepts many different file types for images, including .gif, .jpg, .bmp and .pdf, among many others. For hand-draws logos, scan it into an electronic format that is acceptable to the Copyright Office.
- Go to the US Copyright Office’s website and click the registration option. If you are a first-time applicant, you can create an account.
- Once you have an account, log into your account and click “register a new claim.” Then find the “start registration” option.
- This will take you through the step-by-step process of filing out the copyright application.
- Once the application is complete, select a payment option. Then you will submit payment for the application fee. The fee rates vary depending on several factors.
- Finally, you will need to send the Copyright Office a copy of the logo. You can either upload it on the registration page or otherwise you will have to send a copy via mail.
The copyright process, like the trademark process, can be quite complicated. Your best chance of navigating any potential pitfalls is with the help of an attorney.
Understanding the Best Way to Protect Your Logo
Are you deciding whether to use a trademark for your logo or whether to also obtain a logo copyright? It will help to have a better understanding of what a trademark is, what a trademark protects, and how it protects it.
The same goes for understanding a copyright. You will also want to take your particular logo into consideration, including the nature of your logo, how you intend to use it, and how you intend to protect it. Finally, you can consider the different processes of obtaining a trademark and obtaining a copyright. The time, resources and costs of each might play into your decision.
An intellectual property attorney well versed in trademark, copyright, and company logos is an invaluable asset for your team. An attorney can properly assess the best way to protect your logo.
The best way to protect your copyright and decide when to obtain a copyright logo can be a complex decision. Consult with an attorney who is familiar with this particular area of law and your company. Knowledge of your market and your consumer can help generate the best possible outcome.