Dealing with the ideas of copyrights and trademarks can be confusing, especially to small businesses. I often hear, “Is my logo trademarked?” We can all get justifiably concerned that our intellectual properties—especially those that define each of us in our respective marketplaces—are possibly under fire.
Hopefully, this information will be helpful, and can help soothe your concerns. It was taken from Volunteer Legal Assistance or Artists.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, or a combination of those things, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods. Trademarks last as long as they are being used in commerce.
Do I have to register my trademark?
No. ™ for trademark or ℠ for service mark (the same as a trademark only it indicates a service rather than a product) lets the public know that you claim ownership of the word, phrase or design when the mark is placed next to it. Once an owner registers a trademark, the symbol ® replaces ™. Advantages to registering a trademark include: informing the public that you claim possession of the mark; creating a legal presumption that you own the mark; offering the exclusive right to use the mark nationally and internationally in connection with any goods or services listed in the registration; offering you the opportunity to bring an action in federal court concerning the mark; allowing you to obtain registration of the mark in foreign countries, giving you the ability to file with the U.S. Customs Service to prevent importation of foreign goods that infringe on the mark.
What is a copyright, and what can be copyrighted?
A copyright is a form of protection for authors of original works. A copyright gives the owner(s) the exclusive right to reproduce, adapt, distribute, perform, and display the work.
Any form of original work is copyrighted. It includes: literary works, dramatic or musical works, including any accompanying lyrics, pantomimes and choreographic works, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, motion pictures or other audiovisual works, sound records, architectural works. The government views the categories broadly. Computer programs and compilations may often be registered as literary works. Maps and architectural plans may be registered as pictorial, graphic and sculptural works. Works that are not written, recorded, or somehow made into a physical work are not eligible for copyright protection. For example, choreography or speeches that have not been written down or recorded are not protected. Unprotected works include: titles; names; short phrases and slogans; familiar symbols or designs; fonts, letters or colors; and recipes. The government does not protect ideas, methods, procedures, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries or designs under copyright. Original authorship is mandatory in order to register a work, so works that are entirely made of information that is common property, like standard calendars and rulers, are not eligible for copyright.
Do I have to register a copyright?
No. A work is protected by copyright the minute it is created. Creation involves putting the work into a physical form that someone can see or perceive through using a machine or device. Copies are objects that can be read or seen, from physical books to digital microfilm while phonorecords are recordings such as cassette tapes and CDs. Although authors don’t have to use the © symbol to secure their work it is a good idea and informs others that the work is copyrighted. Authors of visual material can use © (or the word “Copyright” or the abbreviation Copr.), the year of first publication, and the artist’s name.