Trademarks and Copyrights: Understanding the Difference

Though trademarks and copyrights are both defined as intellectual property, it’s not unusual for the average person to be confused about the distinctions between them. Though the laws are made to protect people’s creations from theft or plagiarism, copyrights and trademarks protect creators of intellectual property in different ways. Understanding the differences between these protections is important to ensure that they are used correctly.

Trademarks

A trademark is a symbol, letter, name, or any combination of these that is used to identify a company or product. Similarly, a service mark identifies a company or its services, rather than a tangible product. When a company wants to use a symbol or emblem to advertise its goods and distinguish them from those produced by other companies, registering the symbol as a trademark will protect it and prevent others from using it. Unauthorized use of a trademark will likely lead to consumer confusion about the source of the product, and it is also grounds for legal action.

Here are some basic facts about trademarks:

  • A trademark attorney can help with the trademark application process.
  • Both copyrights and trademarks work to protect someone’s intellectual property.
  • Trademark protection pertains to logos and slogans that define a business or its products.
  • Trademarks pertain to goods, and service marks pertain to services.
  • Typically, a trademark appears on the good associated with the symbol; service marks may appear on any advertising connected with the service in question.
  • A trademark covers any word or symbol that serves to distinguish a product from products produced by other companies.
  • Trademark protection involves variables such as the level of consumer awareness of the trademark, the type of product associated with the trademark, and the geographic location of the trademark.
  • Trademark and copyright protection may overlap, as in the cases of artistic emblems or designs that are created and used as trademarks.
  • A logo is a graphic that represents a company name, serving as a recognizable brand for the company.
  • The test of consumer confusion is used when enforcing trademark law, ensuring that consumers purchase products with confidence when these products bear trademarks associated with specific companies.

Copyrights

Any original creation can be covered by copyright law. Original works may include written documents, music, lyrics, movies, computer software, architectural plans, websites, photographs, and artistic creations. Copyright protection begins from the second of creation, whether or not the creator registers their product for protection. Creators are also not required to affix the word “copyright” to a work to have copyright protection for their intellectual property. The duration of copyright protection depends on the date on which the work was created or published. Works created on or after Jan. 1, 1978, are usually protected for the creator’s life plus 70 years. Works created before Jan. 1, 1978, are subject to different rules, so their copyright lengths vary greatly, lasting up to a total of 95 years. Under these rules, anything published before 1923 would no longer be protected.

Here are some quick facts about copyrights:

  • A copyright owner is the person designated as the owner of a particular copyrighted material.
  • A copyright occurs automatically with the creation of an original work.
  • Artistic works such as paintings, books, music, and more are examples of material that is protected under copyright.
  • The first copyright law originated in England in 1710 and was designed to protect the rights of booksellers and printers.
  • A copyright establishes exclusive rights to reproduce, display, adapt, and perform the material.
  • Intellectual property does not have to be published to be covered by copyright law.
  • Any literary work created after Jan. 1, 1978, has automatic protection under copyright law.
  • Registering a work for copyright protection involves submitting two complete copies of the work with the U.S. Copyright Office, an application, and an application fee.
  • Digital goods are covered under copyright law, which protects creators from having their work reproduced or used without permission.
  • The second an original work is created, it has the protection of copyright law, even without the registration of a copyright.
  • Computer software is another type of intellectual property protected under copyright law.
  • Under a strict interpretation of copyright law, second-generation creators can be restricted in how they use intellectual property to create new works.
  • The fair use doctrine sets forth parameters under which people can legally use copyrighted works without permission.
  • Under the fair use doctrine, teachers and researchers may legally use portions of a copyrighted work to teach or support a claim.
  • The purpose of the fair use doctrine is to provide for some legal uses of copyrighted work, thereby ensuring that the public has access to the work.

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