Pop Quiz! What do Taylor Swift and Kanye West have in common?
Other than their Video Music Awards (VMAs) history, and that they are both musicians, they both have registered trademarks on their names.
A trademark? But don’t you mean a copyright? Nope! A name (brand name, band name) cannot be protected by copyright. Copyright is only one form of intellectual property (IP). There are other forms, like trademarks, patents and trade secrets. Each one protects very different types of things. People often confuse them, but not to worry — we are here to break down the differences for you. For this blog, we will be focusing on the differences between copyright and trademarks.
What is a trademark?
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods. Examples include brand names, slogans, and logos. (The term “trademark” is often used in a general sense to refer to both trademarks and service marks.) Similar to copyright, a person does not need to register a trademark or service mark for the mark to be protected, but there are certain legal benefits to registering the mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). There is occasionally an overlap between trademark and copyright law, for instance, when a graphic illustration is used as a logo, the design may be protected both under copyright and trademark. A good example of this is with the American Airlines logo which has a registered copyright and trademark.
What is a copyright?
A copyright is a collection of exclusive rights automatically vested to you once you have created an original work. To be protected by copyright, the work must be original, creative and fixed in a tangible medium. The rights include the right to reproduce the work, to prepare derivative works, to distribute copies, to perform the work publicly, and to display the work publicly.
Now that we know the difference between copyright and trademark, let’s apply what we have learned to an example. Let’s say you have a band and you write your own music. The music you write is eligible for copyright protection if it is original, creative and fixed in a tangible medium. It is important to note that copyright does not protect ideas, or in our example, an idea for a song. In addition, your band’s name and logo could fall under trademark protection as it would be a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.
One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is “Can you help me copyright my band’s name?” As you now know from this blog, you would need to look into a trademark in order to protect your band’s name. In addition, at this time, the Copyright Alliance does not offer copyright registration services. However, if you are looking to apply for a copyright registration, we recommend that you do so online directly with the U.S. Copyright Office. If you want to apply for a trademark registration or learn more about trademarks, you would do so with the USPTO.
If you still have questions on the differences between copyright and trademark, check out this infographic. We also have a helpful video that discusses the differences. For more information on what copyright protects, visit our copyright basics page.