Trademark vs Copyright: What’s the Difference?

I meet with lots of clients who are building new programs, initiatives, and brands. So, I get this question a LOT – what’s the difference between a trademark and copyright? Here’s a quick answer:

Copyright protects the original expression of an idea, so you can think of creative works like books, music, and movies.

A trademark protects a name or logo that identifies a business or its products and services.

So in the nonprofit world, what do YOU need to care about? How do you know what needs to be protected, and how to do it? First, let’s get into the details:

What is Copyright?

Like I said above, copyright protects original works like:

  • Books, magazines, articles, and other literary works
  • Musical works and their lyrics
  • Visual works such as paintings, graphics, and sculptures
  • Audiovisual works like motion pictures
  • Sound recordings
  • Dramatic works and their accompanying scores
  • Art that involves movement, such as choreography and pantomime

A lot of the work protected by copyright law is in written form. For example, music can be copyrighted because it originally exists as sheet music, which is a written document. Same thing with movies and scripts. These works are usually protected in the United States by registering them with the U.S. Copyright Office.

What is a Trademark?

Trademark, on the other hand, is more of a source identifier. It’s meant to identify a brand and its creator. You can apply trademark protection to a wide range of different marks, including:

  • Word Mark: A word mark consists of a word or phrase. They include slogans, taglines, and brand names, among others. It is the words themselves that are protected rather than the way they appear in an image or design.
  • Design Mark: A design mark is an image that the public associates with a given brand, such as a logo. You can register a trademark to protect all of the mark’s visual elements, regardless of the words used.
  • Composite Mark: Often these marks incorporate words and design, such as a font that has been specially designed for a particular brand. Coca-Cola and BMW are two prominent examples.

Think about the logos for Apple, McDonald’s, and Coca-cola. You buy a Macbook with the Apple logo on it and you immediately know where that product came from. Trademark registration in the United States is done at the USPTO.

Can Something Be Protected by Both Copyright and Trademark?

Let’s look at something that could involve both copyright and trademark.

Let’s say you bought a new cookbook, and it was produced by a specific company that does all sorts of stuff in the food space right now. They do packaged goods and have branded cookware and a distinct logo. All of these assets are protected by a trademark. 

Now you open that beautifully branded cookbook and find all sorts of recipes. Individually, they’re probably not going to be copyrighted, but the way the company has arranged them, written about the recipes in their introduction, and packaged that information is going to be copyrighted.

In this particular example, both trademark and copyright work in tandem to protect the whole package. Now let’s look at another one, still sticking with the kitchen theme.

Suppose I buy an expensive package of iron cast cooking pans from a company called ‘Iron Clad.’ On the box, you’ll see the name of the company, its logo, and maybe a slogan. These are all brand assets that they paid a lot of money for. Inside the box is this cookbook that comes with my fancy new pots and pans. It says ‘Iron Clad Special Recipes Edition.’

In this example, Iron Clad is the brand, so that’s trademarked. The little cookbook itself -the materials, graphic design, layout, photos, all that stuff- is copyrighted. When you’re not thoroughly familiar with trademark and copyright law, it’s easy to get them confused because these assets often go together.

How Do You Get Protection from Copyright or Trademark Law?

The neat thing about copyright is that the protection is legally in place as soon as you write the cookbook, take the photos, etc. Even if you don’t register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Whatever you create and put out into the world is copyrighted, which is pretty powerful. 

With a trademark, there’s some more legwork involved, because you’ve got to do a trademark search, file your application with the USPTO, and be on the lookout for infringers. These are all steps that you can pass over to an attorney.

I Could Talk Trademark vs. Copyright Infringement All Day! Call Me!

In summary, copyright protects your content, or what’s on the inside of your book, magazine, pile of sheet music, or whatever. Your trademark protects what’s on the outside. This includes distinctive visual identifiers, such as words and logos. Trademarks and copyright matters for nonprofits, and it’s important to work with a trademark attorney if you have assets you need to protect.

If you have questions or would like to schedule a consultation, call 612.200.3679 or contact me here and I’ll get right back to you. I look forward to connecting!

Birken Law Office – Law firm serving nonprofits organizations, and foundations – Birken Law

Birken Law Office – Law firm serving nonprofits organizations, and foundations – Birken Law

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