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.
What Is a Copyright?
A copyright protects original works, such as books, songs, paintings, photography, movies, choreography and other original works of authorship that are expressed in a physical form. According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright protects original works such as “literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and certain other intellectual works.”
Companies can copyright their audio and video materials, their books and reports, as well as any other original material they created, such as the design of their logo. It’s important to note that every original work is copyrighted at the moment of its creation. But registering it is what protects it from someone else trying to use it for their own purposes since you will have a document to prove your claim to it.
If anyone tries to steal your original creation, such as your logo, which is your own intellectual property, and use it as their own, you can sue them over the use of your property—but only if you have a copyright registration.
When you have a federally registered copyright, you can control exactly how your intellectual property is used, published and distributed, as well as exactly how it is presented to the public. And you can prevent anyone from using it for their own purposes. If someone tries to do so, you can sue them in a federal court, because you have claimed your right to your intellectual property by copyrighting it.
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:
- business names
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 (ie. 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:
- a book
- a webpage
- a song recorded on a CD or other medium
- a photograph
- a painting
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.
Filing a copyright application for your logo may provide you additional protection than just having a trademark registration on its own. Copyright protection provides different legal advantages than a trademark registration does, such as statutory damages, and conversely, a trademark registration provides specific rights that a copyright application doesn’t. It’s best to consult with a legal professional to determine the best course of action in protecting your logo. Sherman IP attorneys will provide you the advice you need, and a course of action in determining whether a trademark or copyright application, or both, are best for you