Trademark vs. Copyright – Let’s Discuss the Key Differences

Do you consider your business to be a brand? Are you creating your own products, original materials, and other types of assets for your company? If yes, then you have to consider what you can do to protect your intellectual property. If you’ve already done a little bit of research, you’re probably wondering what the differences between copyright and trademark are.

Comparing trademark vs. copyright and knowing the differences between the two is vital for any company as you can argue that brand identity and intellectual property are just as vital for a business as revenue, especially when we talk about being successful in the long run. For example, you might be wondering what will happen if another brand starts to sell a product using your company’s logo and name as an endorsement without you having agreed to it. How will this affect your own business, and what can you do to protect yourself in case such a scenario occurs?

Well, there’s a way, thanks to copyright and trademark. You can protect your brand and file a suit against anyone who uses your brand and its intellectual property without having asked and received your permission. With that said, we’ve decided to dedicate this article to explaining the difference between trademark and copyright, as well as which one of the two applies to your business and which one you should choose to protect your intellectual property adequately.

Now without further ado, let’s get started.

What’s a Trademark?

A trademark is any phrase, symbol, word, design, or even a combination of all of these things that identifies a particular item or service. It’s used to help customers recognize you in the marketplace and distinguish your brand from one of your competitors. The word trademark can be used interchangeably to refer to both service marks and trademarks. However, trademarks are used for products, while service marks, as you can guess, are for services.

If we have to summarize a trademark quickly, we can list the following characteristics:

  • It identifies the source of your service and goods
  • It protects your brand legally
  • It helps you prevent possible fraud or counterfeiting

One thing people often don’t understand is that having a trademark doesn’t give you legal ownership over a particular word or phrase and prevents others from ever using it. The reality is that you don’t own the word in general; you just have ownership over its use in association with your services and products.

For example, if you use a logo as a trademark for your small clothing business to distinguish your products from others on the market, that doesn’t mean you can stop people in the shoe industry from using it for their services and goods.

Another common belief that’s unfortunately false is that choosing a trademark that sort of describes your services or goods is a good idea. In fact, the more creative and unique you get with your trademarks, the easier it will be to protect them.

The Difference Between Owning a Trademark vs. Having a Registered Trademark

You become an owner of a trademark once you start to use one in association with your business’s goods and services. You establish the right over your trademark by using it, but those rights are limited as they only apply to the geographic area where you’re selling your products or services. That means that if you want to have stronger rights that are valid nationwide, you’ll have to apply to register your trademark.

Registering your trademark isn’t something you’re obliged to do. However, having a registered trademark is a way to get more rights and protection compared to having an unregistered one.

For example, if you use your logo as a trademark for handmade woodwork that you sell locally, as your business expands and you start having an online store, you might want to get more protection over your trademark. That’s the precise moment when you will have to apply for federal registration.

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects original works that you’re the author of as soon as you fix them in any tangible form of expression. When it comes to copyright law, there are many different types of works, from paintings, photographs, and illustrations to musical compositions, poems, sound recordings, movies, books, and even blog posts. That’s not the end of it; even computer programs and architectural works can be copyrighted.

Who is a Copyright Owner?

Everyone can become a copyright owner. Once you create something original and fix it – for example, taking a photograph, writing a blog post, recording a rap song – you’re the author and the owner at the same time.

Along with that, companies, other people, and organizations can also be copyright owners. Copyright law enables ownership through “works made for hire,” which means something created by an employee in their scope as one in a particular company. This “work for hire” doctrine also applies to some independent contractor relations and for some commissioned works.

What Rights Does Copyright Provide?

U.S. copyright law gives people with copyright owner status a few exclusive rights:

  • To produce and reproduce the same work in multiple copies or phonorecords
  • To create derivative works based on the original
  • To distribute phonorecords or copies of the work to the public by selling it or transferring the ownership by lending, leasing, or rental
  • To perform the work in public spaces
  • To display the work in public spaces
  • Having copyright ownership also enables you to authorize others to exercise the same rights as you have.

How Long Does Copyright Protection Last?

The length of copyright protection depends on the exact time when your work was created. Under the current U.S. law, works that were made on or after January 1st, 1978, have a copyright term of life of the author with an additional 70 years after the author’s death. If the work has multiple authors, then the term lasts for 70 years after the death of the last surviving author. On the other hand, works made for hire or anonymous and pseudonymous works have copyright protection that’s 95 years from publication or 120 years after the creation, depending on which is shorter.

What is Copyright Registration?

Copyright exists automatically for any original work once the author has fixed it. However, as the author, you can take some steps to get a higher degree of protection for your work. The most vital one of those is registering it.

Copyright registration is not something you’re obliged to do, but in the U.S., registration (or the refusal to do it) is necessary in order to enforce exclusive copyrights through litigation. Registering on time enables copyright owners to seek particular kinds of attorney fees and monetary damages in case a lawsuit occurs.

Along with that, copyright registration provides value to the public as a whole. It facilitates licensing marketplace as it enables people to find copyright ownership information and notifies the general public that someone has claimed copyright protection. It also serves as a record of the nation’s creativity. In the U.S., you can register claims to copyright only in the Copyright Office.

What’s the Difference Between a Trademark vs. Copyright?

Both trademark and copyright are a form of intellectual property, which intangible assets can define. To put it more simply, people who’re creative and make things such as inventions, literary and artistic works, symbols, designs, images, and names largely used in commerce can protect their creations with trademarks and copyright.

When we talk about business ideas, this can largely encompass any business idea as well as all those that are born out of it. Having said that, in the U.S., copyrights, patents, and trademarks are used as a way to protect intellectual property.

The main difference between copyright and trademark is that they’re used to protect different types of assets, and so their registration also differs.

Overall, if we have to summarize, copyright protects artistic and literary materials; works such as films, books, and music; and is automatically generated once the work is published. A trademark, however, protects items that help define a company, such as brand slogans and logos; thus, it requires a more extensive registration process that goes through the government.

To make things more clear, let’s break down what copyrights and trademarks protect.

What Does a Copyright Protect?

As we already mentioned, copyright is a form of intellectual property protection that is generated once a particular original work is finished and fixed. It typically protects musical, artistic, and literary works, and the list includes

  • Novels
  • Poetry
  • Art
  • Other forms of original writing
  • Research
  • Songs
  • Musicals
  • Films
  • Other types of visual and audio materials
  • Software
  • Architecture

To summarize, as long as the original work is kept preserved in some way, it’s protected under copyright once created. However, works that aren’t available in a tangible form, such as speeches that aren’t recorded or written down, cannot be subject to copyright.

Other creations that cannot be copyrighted include

  • Principles
  • Ideas
  • Discoveries
  • Works that are considered common property
  • Lists of ingredients or content

This list also contains all works that are in the public domain, meaning the ones for which copyright has expired, have been waived or forfeited and thus cannot be copyrighted again.

What Does a Trademark Protect?

On the other hand, trademarks are used to protect intellectual property that covers symbols, words, phrases, or designs that help distinguish one company from others. This means that a trademark protects items like

  • Brand names
  • Company names
  • Slogans
  • Logos

To summarize, a trademark can apply to any item that’s related to a business and is used to brand or identify it as produced/created by a particular company. Here are some recognizable examples:

  • McDonald’s golden arches
  • Nike’s “swoosh” logo
  • Apple’s “half-bitten” apple

When it comes to trademarks, it’s vital to recognize the difference between a trademark and a service mark. Although “trademark” is the more used term and is typically used to encompass both service and trademarks, a service mark as a term helps us distinguish the services of one company from those provided by another.

A good example of a service mark comes from United Airlines and their slogan “Fly the Friendly Skies.” Although the United Airlines name is trademarked, their slogan, which defines the service they provide, is service marketed along with that.

Having said all of that, one major difference between copyrights and trademarks is that the latter never expires. In most cases, a trademark comes from actual use – you make your mark as you do business, and there it can last forever, as long as your company/brand continues to use it.

Here, it’s also vital to note that in order to own a trademark forever, you need first to register and pay the required fees.

To Conclude

If we have to summarize the differences between copyrights and trademarks, we can do it with three quick points:

  • Trademarks protect items that identify or distinguish a particular brand from others, while copyright is used to protect original works.
  • Copyright is generated from the moment an original work is created, where in order to have a trademark, it has to be established through use in relation to a company.
  • Trademarks can last forever or as long as the company that uses them as identification lasts, while copyright always has a set time period.

Both of these forms of intellectual property protection are important and can be vital if applicable to your business venture. In any case, if you’re a creative person that uses his mind to make different kinds of works, from art to music, books, and even computer games, copyrights are something that will help you protect your creation from fraud. On the other hand, if you’re the CEO or founder of a company, having your trademarks, such as slogans and logos, is key to establishing brand identity. Making sure they cannot be used by other businesses in your industry is vital.

Overall, if you want to ensure your legal rights are protected, it’s key to get either trademark or copyrights, depending on your niche. If you’re not certain how to handle the registration process, it might be a good idea for you to hire a business attorney or to use some kind of online legal advice for help along the way.

Hopefully, you found this helpful article. If you want to learn more about marketing, ecommerce, leadership, and entrepreneurship, head on over to our blog, where you will find more posts similar to this one.

Share to...