We’ve all heard the terms “trademarks” and “copyrights” a million times. But what do they really actually mean? Do you need trademarks and copyrights for your blog and biz right now? Let’s break it down and clear up some confusion – what they both are and how they differ.
So trademarks and copyrights are two of the three types of “intellectual property” (with the third being patents). Initially they can seem pretty similar but they actually cover two totally different aspects of owning your unique creative work (aka your intellectual property).
(Before we go any further – I am a US based attorney, so this post is mainly geared towards US bloggers, but can apply to international bloggers as well. Additionally this post should not be seen as legal advice.)
What is a Trademark?
First let’s talk about trademarks. So a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, logo or design (or combo of any of those) that is used to distinguish the source of goods or products from one company/person from those of someone else. You can basically think of trademarks as protected your overall brand.
Trademarks are used to protect the trademark owner from having someone else using a name/symbol/logo, etc. that is so similar that it could cause confusion. Basically if everyone was allowed to use the Starbucks logo and brand name, it would cause a lot of confusion over authenticity, right? So trademark law wants to protect against potential confusion or fraud.
Related: Legalize Your Blog (free ecourse)
You know about trademarks from seeing two main types of symbols – ™ or ® – after a name or logo. These two symbols actually mean pretty different things.
The ™ symbol means that someone is putting others on notice that they are claiming that they own the rights to this trademark. By “claiming” to own the mark, that person/company is basically telling the world that they believe that they are the originator of this brand name or logo. You can use this symbol to establish what is called a common law right to the trademarked name, just by using the name in commerce.
So, anyone can use the ™ without actually doing anything formally or registering the trademark. You can use the ™ to put others on notice that you believe you are the owner of this mark. You should first do a quick search of trademark names to make sure no one else is already using it. Throwing up the ™ symbol after your name or logo isn’t a bulletproof protection. You’re just saying that you think you’re the real trademark owner.
But if Starbucks comes knocking on your door, you’re probably going to lose. On the other hand, if you’re using the ™ symbol for 3 years with your blog and someone else started using the name one year ago, the face that you were using it for way longer could be good evidence that you’re the “real” owner.
So this differs from the ® symbol which is actually for a registered trademark. In the US, trademarks are regulated by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. If someone is using the ® symbol, this means that they went through the whole formal process of applying for a federally registered trademark with that office. You can only use this mark once you’ve actually been granted the trademark.
The importance of these two different types of marks is that with a federally registered trademark, you have greater protections even though you still have some protections with just the ™ mark as well. Basically, if there is ever a fight with someone else over your mark, you would have greater legal protections if your mark is registered.
Applying for a Trademark
If you are interested in applying for a trademark, you can check out the US Patent and Trademark Office for more info on procedures and fees. Your chosen trademark will have to meet several criteria in order to have the trademark granted. The formal trademark process can be a lengthy and complicated process, so it is a good idea to consult with an attorney to help you with the process.
If you are using a name which you feel is at risk for being copied or stolen, you can start using the ™ symbol today in order to put others on notice that you are claiming ownership over the name (or logo, symbol, etc). And you then always later register for a formal trademark if you wish.
Related Post: 20 Legal Things Every Blogger Needs to Know
What do copyrights protect?
Copyrights are the legal system that protect literary or creative works. So trademarks protect things like a logo or brand name, while copyrights protect your work product or content. So, very generally, for a book – the name of the book would be trademark protected and the content of the book would be copyright protected. In the case of your blog, the name of your blog would fall under trademarks and the content (blog posts, photos, graphics, etc) would fall under copyright.
Copyrights give the creators or authors the right to control the copying of their work. This means they have control over things like copying, creating derivative works, selling copies, reprinting or displaying your work. Others can do these sorts of things only if you’ve given them your permission or have given them the copyright.
When Work is Copyright Protected
In the US, your originally work is automatically copyright protected from the moment that it is created or published. This is without you needing to formally register your work. However, this doesn’t mean that your work won’t get stolen or used without your permission. You get greater protections when you formally register your work for copyright protection. Plus, before you can actually sue for copyright infringement, your work must already be registered with the copyright office.
There is just one copyright symbol – the © symbol. You can use this whether you have formally registered your work for copyright protection or no. Using this symbol, along with your name or business name and the year of publication lets others know that this is you unique work product. You should include a short copyright statement on your blog (with the © symbol, your name/biz name and the year or years of publication) plus also include a longer statement laying out your copyright interest somewhere else on your blog – including a longer statement as part of your terms and conditions is a great idea.
Related Post: How to Write Legal Statements to Protect Your Blog
Although you get greater protections with a formal copyright, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to register everything for a formal copyright. If your work is more likely to be stolen and used for a profit (such as works of art of graphics that could be easily printed on things like t-shirts or prints), then your work might be more appropriate for copyright registration. Other types of work might be less likely to be stolen and repurposed for profit. So consider your work product first before you look into getting your work registered for copyright protection.
How to Register
If you are interested in copyrighting your work, you can visit the Copyright Office website for more info. Generally, registering requires three things: (1) your completed application form, (2) a non-refundable filing fee and (3) a non-returnable deposit (which is a copy or copies of your work to be “deposited” with the Copyright Office). You can apply either online (through the electronic Copyright Office, or eCO) or using paper forms (through the Copyright Office website).
So there’s your guide to the difference between trademarks and copyrights and the basics of both. Have you registered a trademark or copyright for your blog or business? Any questions I didn’t answer here? Are you feeling more confident and educated around these two concepts? Let me know in the comments! And if you found this post helpful, please share by clicking one of the share buttons on the left side of your screen!
Also I’m hosting a free webinar next week all about being sure your blog is legal – I’ll be talking about the statements/language you need, working with sponsors and more! Just click here or below to sign up – yay!
Disclaimer: I am an attorney, but I am not your attorney. The information in this article is for general informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. The author is not liable for any losses or damages related to actions of failure to act related to the content in this article. If you need specific legal advice, consult with an attorney who specializes in your subject matter and jurisdiction.