Copyright vs. Trademark: Clarifying the Confusion between the Two

by Mark Stephens

Success and financial status of a business aren’t calculated solely by the amount of revenue it earns. Assets, including intellectual property, do determine a brand’s net worth. Sadly, many business owners are oblivious to the most valuable asset of their business – the brand name under which the performance and goodwill of their business depends.

Just imagine if someone starts selling a product or service using your brand name and logo without your consent–how far will this affect the growth and reputation of your business? Luckily, with copyrights and trademarks, you can protect your business and file suit against those who use your brand and intellectual property without permission.

In an age when customers have become highly brand conscious, plagiarism can affect your consumers’ purchasing decisions and damage your business relationships. Fortunately, you can protect your business with copyrights and trademarks and file suit against those who use your intellectual property without your consent.

So, if you’re planning to take your business to great heights, it’s important to know how to protect your intellectual property and thus, have a clear perception of trademark and copyright. In this blog, we’ll explain the difference between copyrights and trademarks so you can understand which would be more applicable to your business. 

Intellectual Property (IP) Protection

Intellectual property refers to any product of the human intellect, including creative write-ups, inventions, designs, industrial models, trademarks, symbols, literature, brand names, slogans etc. To enforce the proprietorship and right to use your intellectual property, you need to register it at the United States Patent and Trademark Office or the United States Copyright Office, based on the type of property you want to protect.

The Intellectual Property Rights entitle the proprietor to stop others from using, tampering or trading with his/her products or services without their prior permission. The owner can also sue the offender and compel them to stop and compensate for any damages done to their business and its reputation.

Copyrights and Trademarks Defined

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is anything and everything that represents your company in the marketplace.  It typically refers to symbol, logo, design, word, phrase, color, sound, or a combination of these, which is used to discriminate your goods and services from those used, manufactured or sold by others.  Particular sounds, color schemes, and even smells also have the potential to become a registered trademark.

However, deciding which aspects of your brand can and should become trademarks can be difficult.  For this, start with those aspects of your business that you want to become its identity.  The objective of any aspiring or even successful business is to have its products or services stand out in the crowd, and only a legally registered trademark can help you do that.  It’ll also protect your brand from others who might want to use your brand’s reputation for their own profit.  Once registered and implemented correctly, your trademark will help establish your brand’s uniqueness by boosting consumer recognition and loyalty.

The first requisite for registering a trademark is doing a thorough search to see if it’s already in use. Due to the complex legal ramification, trademark experts usually recommend hiring an attorney to help you with proper trademark registration.

What is a Copyright?

According to the United States Copyright Office, copyright safeguards creative works delivered in a definite form including “literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.” For example, a company can copyright its books, reports, audio, video materials, and even websites. Although such works are automatically copyrighted at the time of their creation, registration is mandatory if a business wants to prevent the use of these materials by someone else.

As a copyright owner, you do have certain legal rights to your creations.  You have the right to create additional works or reproduce your work, based on the original piece.  You can also distribute your copyrighted material, and have the sole right to make the work public, through display or performance.  While any illegal use would be a violation of your copyright protection, you can transfer all or part of these rights to others with due authorization. For example, an author may allow a certain magazine or commercial to feature an excerpt from his/her book during a promotional campaign.

The Difference between Copyright and Trademark

While both offer protection for your intellectual property, they work differently for different types of assets. While a copyright is more focused on literary and artistic works, such as books, songs, and videos, a trademark safeguards items related to a brand’s identity, such as logo, slogan, website and more. For instance, a publishing house can trademark its name and logo, but would want to copyright books, magazines, and videos that it created.

Unlike a trademark that protects owners against others using any content (including ideas and concepts) deemed confusingly similar, a copyright will not safeguard concepts or ideas, but only how they are expressed.  For example, trademarks protect the use of a company’s name and its brand identity whereas copyrights protect the rights of those who create artistic, literary, musical, dramatic, and certain other intellectual works (like software code). To register a copyright, you must fill out a specific form, pay a fee, and send a copy of the relevant documents to the United States Copyright Office.

The difference between trademark and copyright can be further understood on the basis of the following points:

1. Objective: The objective behind using the trademark is to retain the exclusivity of your products or services in the market, whereas the copyrights grant exclusive right to their use and distribution.

2. Target objects: The trademark acts as protection for your brand name, logo design, taglines, slogan and domain names whereas copyright safeguards artistic, musical and dramatic works.

3. Benefit: Since the trademark prevents competitive brands from using similar symbols or texts in their branding materials, it promotes brand reputation and customer loyalty. Copyright, on the other hand, prevents any person other than the proprietor to sell or reproduce the copyrighted content, online or offline.

4. Exclusivity: Trademark doesn’t just provide exclusivity to your products or services, but also helps retain it. Copyright-protected work helps the owner in making financial gains.

5. Recognition: Trademark provides a sense of association and acceptance about your brand in the eyes of your customers. They recognize professionalism and rate your product or service quality as per the brand value. Copyright, on the contrary, certifies the original aspects of the work.

6. Validity duration: The trademark registration is typically valid for 10 years, which can then be renewed to protect your brand identity from infringers. Copyright, however, is valid for a lifetime. For an individual owner, the validity of copyright is the lifetime of the owner plus 60 years. For a legally formed entity, copyright may extend up to 60 years from its date of implementation.

7. Symbol of Recognition: The trademarked symbol, product or service is entitled to use the ® sign after the registration. The symbol © is used for the protection of copyrighted original creations. Although it doesn’t mandatorily require registration, it helps substantiate the originality.

8. Registration: While proper registration is mandatory for using the ® trademark symbol, using © symbol as an initiative to add copyright protection doesn’t strictly require registration. However, registration works as a guarantor for the works’ originality.

Copyright Protections

Both copyrights and trademarks are intellectual property rights, providing protection to distinct creations. 

Of the two intellectual property protection rights, copyright is the more straightforward if not more simple. In Article I Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, commonly referred to as the “Copyright Clause,” a group of rights has been recognized for protecting authors and their creative inventions.

Simply said, copyright protection means that a work’s copyright owner holds exclusive rights to print, edit, display, distribute and perform the work in any way they like. Additionally, the owner has sole rights to publish and broadcast the work on the internet.

Trademark Protections

Started by Congress in 1946, trademark protection is a newer term than copyrights. Although typically deemed as a protection right for commercial brands and their business interests, they were originally seen as a defending tool for consumers as well.

Trademarks were initially born out of an idea that consumers should not feel confused when looking for goods in the marketplace. Once the logo or mark of a brand becomes known to its consumers, they won’t be misled by fraudulent companies. The trademark protection rights prohibit the use of a known logo or brand by anyone other than the trademark holder. 

Final words,

In a nutshell, both of these intellectual property protections are important for your business. Typically, copyrights take care of creative or intellectual works, whereas trademarks apply to commercial names, logos, and slogans. If you’re still unsure of your legal rights or the process involved with legal registration of a copyright or trademark, it’s advisable to seek help from a business attorney or online legal assistance for professional advice and guidance.

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