Copyrights and Trademarks
Copyright and trademark are two of the most important legal protections for creative works. But they're also complex, so you need to understand what each does before deciding which protection is right for your project.
Copyright is a Federal Law
Copyright is a federal law that protects your intellectual creations. It applies to both published and unpublished works, including software, art, music, and literature. When you create an original work of authorship—such as a short story or computer program—you automatically own the copyright in the work from the moment it’s created (regardless of whether it has been published). Once you publish a creative work without proper notice of copyright ownership for others to know about, anyone can use your creation without permission and without paying royalties, credit or other compensation.
Under this system of “exhaustion” (which means acquiring all rights after selling something once), no one can ever ask you for permission again to use what they bought from you under these circumstances!
Trademark is a more Specific Protection
A trademark is a brand name, term, or phrase. It can be a company name, product name or any other distinctive sign used to distinguish the products and services of one business from those of others. For example, Coca-Cola is a trademark and so are Apple's rainbow apple logo and the slogan "Think Different." The same applies to trademarks that are visually distinct—like Nike's swoosh logo or McDonald’s golden arches. These elements are all protected by trademark law in order to prevent consumer confusion about what they're buying.
What can you Protect with Copyright?
To have copyright protection, the work must be:
- Original - The work is an expression of your own thoughts, ideas, and/or feelings.
- Fixed in a tangible medium - The work must be recorded on some type of physical object (e.g., paper or hard drive), so you can see it or hear it at any time (as opposed to in your head).
- Creative Works - Works that are not purely functional do not qualify for copyright protection; these include recipes for food and clothing designs such as dresses and hats. However, if the recipe contains an element that is creative enough to qualify for copyright protection (like adding flavoring or spices), then its creator may have both trademark AND copyright rights over this item!
What can you Protect with a Trademark?
Trademark protection is valuable because it helps you protect your brand name and its visual elements. For example, if your company has a logo with an apple on it, but another company starts using that logo, then you can file a trademark infringement lawsuit against them.
Copyright protects the expression of ideas. This means that a work of art may be copyrighted even though it's got nothing to do with your original idea: someone else might have come up with the same idea independently, or perhaps you based your work on something else without realizing it.
Trademark protects only names and logos used in commerce (for example, Coca-Cola is both a brand name and its logo). You can't claim copyright over these elements unless they are part of a larger work—for instance, if you wrote an entire book about Coca-Cola or created an elaborate sculpture using the logo as its centerpiece.
In short, a trademark protects the brand name and visual elements of your creative work. Copyright protects the creative aspects of that work: text, images, sounds, etc. When you’re working on a new project, it can be helpful to know what kind of copyright protection is available for your ideas—and if you need trademark protection at all!