What’s the Difference Between Trademark and Copyright?

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Written By Brian T. Edmondson, Esq.

Hi, I'm Brian. I'm an internet entrepreneur & lawyer. I write about all things internet business & law.

Hey, it’s Brian. This article is for informational purposes and is NOT legal advice, cool? Onto the article…

Thinking about protecting your intellectual property and wondering what the difference between a trademark and a copyright is?

In a nutshell, trademarks are meant to protect your brand name, logos, slogans, or anything else that identifies your brand, and copyrights are meant to protect works that you create.

Keep reading to learn about the key differences between trademarks and copyrights and what is best for you.

When starting a business, your intellectual property (IP) is the first thing that resonates with your audience—deciding whether to protect your assets through trademark, copyright, or both is puzzling for early entrepreneurs. 

With your business’s hard work on the line, knowing how to shield your creations from theft is vital. This blog aims to clarify the difference between a trademark and a copyright and how to protect your intellectual property.

Understanding Intellectual Property Basics

Intellectual property (IP) encompasses the creations of the mind, from inventions to artistic works. The legal backbone protects these assets, ensuring creators and businesses can benefit from their innovations and maintain a competitive edge. 

Understanding intellectual property is foundational for safeguarding your work.

What is a Trademark?

A trademark is a distinctive symbol, layout, or statement that identifies and sets one company’s products or services apart from those of competitors. Its main goal is to inform customers exactly who they are purchasing from by indicating the source of goods or services. 

To obtain a trademark, one must apply for registration with the relevant governmental body, which involves proving the uniqueness of the mark and its association with your goods or services. Once approved, the scope of protection typically covers preventing others from using similar marks that could confuse consumers.

The trademark symbol (™) can be used with any mark to claim it as a trademark. In contrast, the registered trademark symbol (®) is reserved for marks officially registered with the appropriate government authority. These symbols are crucial in trademark protection, signaling your legal claim over the trademark and deterring potential infringement.

Trademarks can take various forms, including:

  • Logos: Visual symbols representing a company or product.
  • Brand Names: Specific names given to products or services.
  • Slogans: Catchy phrases associated with a brand.

What is Copyright?

Copyright protects original works of authorship, including literature, music, art, and software. It grants creators exclusive rights to use, share, and distribute their work, safeguarding it against unauthorized use. Copyright turns creative expressions into tangible assets that their creators can control. 

Getting copyright protection is simple; it takes effect automatically when the work is created and fixed in a material form that can be felt, either by hand or with the use of a machine or other apparatus.

The copyright symbol (©) denotes copyright and is typically accompanied by the year of first publication and the copyright owner’s name. This symbol serves as a public notice of copyright ownership, helping to prevent unauthorized reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material.

Critical aspects of Copywrite include:

  • Literature: Books, poems, and written works.
  • Music: Compositions, lyrics, and sound recordings.
  • Art: Paintings, photographs, and sculptures.
  • Software: Computer programs and databases.

The Key Differences Between Trademarks and Copyrights

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the critical differences between a trademark and a copyright:

  • Nature of Protection: Trademarks protect symbols, logos, and names that distinguish goods and services. Copyrights protect original creative works like literature, music, and art from being used without permission.
  • Registration Process: The process for trademark registration involves applying with the Registrar of Trademarks. On the other hand, copyright protection does not require formal registration in many jurisdictions and is automatically granted upon creating the work.
  • Type of Intellectual Property Covered: Trademarks cover brand identifiers that distinguish products or services. Copyrights cover various creative expressions, including written works, music, and artistic creations.
  • Duration of Protection: Trademark protection is valid for ten years from the date of application but can be renewed indefinitely. Copyright protection lasts the author’s lifetime plus 60 years after death.
  • Governing Legislation: Trademarks are protected under the Lanham Act which focuses on registering and protecting trademarks. Copyrights are governed by the Copyright Act of 1976, which aims to protect original works of authorship.
  • Rights Granted: Trademark ownership grants the right to prevent others from using similar marks that could confuse consumers. Copyright ownership provides exclusive rights to use, reproduce, distribute, and display the creative work.
  • Symbolic Representation: Trademarks use the ™ symbol for unregistered trademarks and the ® symbol for registered ones. Copyrights use the © symbol to indicate copyright protection.

Why Knowing the Difference Between Copyright and Trademark Matters

To avoid legal pitfalls, it’s essential to understand the basic difference between trademarks and copyrights. Misusing them can result in hefty legal battles and financial losses. 

For creators, entrepreneurs, and businesses, understanding these distinctions is key. This awareness helps avert infringement disputes and bolsters the legal defense of intellectual assets.

How to Protect Your Intellectual Property

Safeguarding your intellectual creations and brand identity is more than necessary—it’s a strategic move in today’s competitive market. 

Here’s a tailored approach to fortify your trademarks and copyrights:

Copyright Protections Process

  • Automatic Protection: Copyright is automatically granted upon creating an original work fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
  • Registration (Optional but Recommended): Register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office for additional protection. This involves completing an application, paying a fee, and submitting a copy of the work. Registration provides legal advantages, such as the ability to sue for infringement and potential statutory damages.

Monitoring and Enforcing Your Rights

  • Use watermarks and copyright notices (©) to deter unauthorized use.
  • Monitor the use of your work online and offline.
  • Take legal action against infringement, including cease and desist letters, negotiations, or lawsuits.

Trademark Protections Process

  • Search: Conduct a thorough search to ensure your trademark is unique and not already in use.
  • Application: File an application with United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or relevant authority. Include details about the trademark and the goods/services it will represent.
  • Use: Begin using your trademark in commerce. Use the ™ symbol for unregistered trademarks and the ® symbol once registered.

Monitoring and Enforcing Your Rights

  • Regularly monitor the market for potential infringements.
  • Enforce your rights through legal notices and, if necessary, litigation to prevent unauthorized trademark use.

Navigating Trademark and Copyright Decisions

Deciding between a trademark and a copyright hinges on what aspect of your intellectual property you aim to protect. 

Whether it’s your brand identity or creative works, understanding the difference between a Trademark and a Copyright is critical to making informed decisions. Understanding this, you can confidently scale the legal process, ensuring your valuable assets are safeguarded for the future.