You’re a creative genius.
Know who you are, be proud of your work, and tell the world. But first: protect your property.
We know that it can be confusing when it comes to protecting your creative work. But when we tell you it is important, we’re serious. Intellectual property protections are vital to freelancers, content creators, course creators, coaches, and anyone using their brilliance to produce innovative works, particularly in the online space.
So, let’s talk trademark vs. copyright.
Your creativity is your intellectual property, whether it’s expressed in literary, dramatic, and musical forms. For these types of intellectual property, copyrights come into play.
Another type of intellectual property covers brand names, logos, slogans, business names, and anything that distinguishes a particular brand in comparison to others. The focus for these types of intellectual property is trademarks.
This article will focus on the differences between two popular categories of intellectual property: copyrights and trademarks. For a deeper dive into intellectual property, check out the top ways to protect your intellectual property.
When Should You Copyright Something (vs. Trademark)?
Is your work original? Have you recorded it? Have you written it down? Then, by definition, your work is copyrighted. Once you create something considered permanent or “fixed,” you are the rightful copyright owner, so congratulations! That was easy.
In some cases, though, you may opt to enhance your legal protection by obtaining a registered copyright. It is not mandatory, but a registered copyright comes with many benefits. First, if there is a lawsuit, the registration paves the way for the copyright owner to seek monetary damages and paid attorney fees. The registration certificate elevates your standing in any litigation.
It also provides value to the marketplace by being available when people are looking for copyright information. Your registration will be included in our country’s record of creativity. I don’t know about you, but we think that’s a pretty cool legacy moment to boot.
In a nutshell:
Copyrighting allows you to reproduce, distribute, sell, perform, and display your work publicly. It enables you to create work derivative of your original work if you want. With it, you can reproduce your work via copies or phonorecords.
Simply put, you control your work’s ownership, use, and distribution. You created it and you own it. For a long time, too. Your copyright is valid for your lifetime, plus 70 years after your death. For official info on all things copyright and to learn how to register your copyright, you can head to copyright.gov.
Last thing: let’s talk about the ©. The copyright symbol is available to you to use to mark your copyrighted work. It indicates that you legally own your work, and that anyone who wants to use it needs to get permission first. You don’t have to register anything or otherwise jump through any hoops: simply find the symbol, add it to any doc, and you’ve put your stamp on the content.
When Should You Get a Trademark (vs. Copyright)?
Next up: trademarks.
Trademarks provide a different form of intellectual property protection. Essentially, anything that brands a business or identifies a product or company can be (and probably should be) trademarked. Identifiable packaging, unique wording, symbols, and even sounds can be legally trademarked.
Glad you asked! Trademarking is a critical step in protecting your brand identity. Trademark rights come from actual use. As long as you are using that trademark in the course of doing business, it is your right.
The symbols for trademarking differentiate between trademarks (™) and registered trademarks (®). First thing you should know is that these symbols aren’t interchangeable.
™ is an indication that you claim rights around the content you are connoting with this symbol. It can be used to essentially provide common law trademark rights, and may also be used if you’re waiting on federal registration.
® is the registered trademark symbol. It means that your trademark is registered with your country’s trademark office, and the asset or content in question cannot be infringed upon, by penalty of law.
Now, you don’t have to get a registered trademark, but as with registered copyright, it offers an extra layer of protection. It stops your competition from encroaching on your style or poaching your work. No one can imitate your brand when you have a registered trademark. Unfortunately, some people have no qualms about copycat-ism. A trademark offers protection against people who could potentially damage your reputation.
The first step in acquiring a registered trademark is to conduct a search to make sure your idea hasn’t been used before. If you discover that you were as original as you suspected, then you fill out an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The trademark protection must be renewed every ten years.
Trademark vs. Copyright: Which Protection is Right for You?
Okay, let’s take a look at the key differences side-by-side so that you can determine which legal protection you need.
Copyright protects all original creations and work. A trademark protects the items that identify a specific business or piece of work.
Copyright is automatic upon the publication or publicization of original work. A trademark safeguards owned work as is used commercially or for other purposes.
Copyrights don’t have to be registered, but provide more legal protection if they are. Registered trademarks must be officially obtained through the government and renewed every 10 years.
A copyright will last for the life of the author, plus 70 years. A trademark doesn’t expire as long as it continues to be used and is renewed on time.
Level Up Your Legal Strategy
So, there you have it.
Copyrights vs. Trademarks.
Intellectual property is a broad category that also includes patents and trade secrets, and all of it makes up core parts of the heart and soul of your business. The bottom line is that what you create and build should be protected, because it has inherent value (not just to you but to the world).
Women supporting women is the central tenet of The Legal Godfairy. That’s why we’re dedicated to helping purpose-driven female founders build legally sound and sustainable businesses. Some of the ways we do this is by providing you with premium legal templates and quality resources.
Like you, we’re always dreaming up something new. The doors to the library of on-demand legal training and resources we’ve been working so hard to build will be opening soon — we’re talking about The Legal Legacy Lounge™. Your dream destination for planning, protecting, and propelling your legacy!
Inside the Lounge, we’ll walk you through topics ranging from LLC formation, contracts, copyrights, trademarks, and so much more so you can have endless peace of mind in all stages of your entrepreneurial journey.
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*Disclaimer: This blog post has been prepared solely for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to provide, nor should it be relied on for, legal advice. Should you require advice regarding a specific matter, appropriate legal or other professional advice should be obtained.