If you are confused about Intellectual Property, Copyrights and Trademarks, you are not alone!
What is intellectual property, anyway?
Intellectual property is anything you create with your mind. Something you invent, a book or song you write, art or designs you create, names or symbols used in business, etc.
Questions about intellectual property come up often. Many people aren’t sure what is ok or not ok to do. It can be confusing! Other people casually choose to violate others’ intellectual property, thinking that no harm can come from doing so. However, that is not true at all.
Is it ok to use someone else’s intellectual property?
Imagine this: You thought of a great idea and you’re really excited to create it. You spend hours designing it. You finish it, test it, make adjustments and finalize the design. You create your item, share it and begin selling it. All is well. Then one day you see someone post a picture of an item with your exact same design. How would you feel? Has that ever happened to you?
Some people try to use designs created by big-name companies, justifying that those companies make millions and it won’t matter if they create a copy of a design and sell items using that design. Companies invest in protecting their intellectual property. Many of them search for people violating their copyrights or trademarks and pursue legal action. There are people who have lost everything simply because they chose to disregard others’ rights to intellectual property. This is something to be knowledgeable about.
What if you purchase your designs, or use free designs?
When you obtain designs created by others (by purchasing or being given them for free), it’s very important to be aware of the license that comes along with that design. For example, Some licenses only allow you to make items for personal use, items not to be given away or sold. Other licenses allow you to sell to others (a “commercial” license), but sometimes limit the quantity that can be sold. Many designs purchased or received for free do not allow you to give the design itself to anyone or to sell it to anyone. When you obtain a design, you should make sure you know what that design can legally be used for.
So what are the differences between copyrights and trademarks?
Before I go any further, let’s be clear that I am NOT an attorney or any expert in copyright or trademark law (not even close!). I can’t emphasize that enough. 😀 The information I’m sharing is all straight from the US Patent and Trademark Office and the US Copyright Office and can be verified there. My purpose here is just to explain some of the basic differences between them to help you learn to navigate these waters that can sometimes feel murky. (Note: The information shared here is specific to the United States of America.)
What can be copyrighted?
Just about any creative work can be copyrighted, including paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, sound recordings, computer programs, books, poems, blog posts, movies, architectural works, and plays.
What is the purpose of a copyright?
A copyright protects you from other people copying your work without your permission.
Every person is a copyright owner and also a copyright user. Every time you take a photo, write a poem, etc, you are the copyright owner. Every time you listen to music, watch a movie, read a book, etc, you are a copyright user.
Copyrights are not:
Things that are not creative, such as names, phrases, common, symbols or designs, titles, slogans; variations of lettering or coloring; or things like ingredients or contents lists. Copyrights protect creative expression. They do not protect processes, ideas, procedures, discoveries, etc.
When is a copyright created?
Once the author “fixes” the work (such that the work can be perceived, reproduced, or communicated for more than a short time), it is copyrighted.
Copyright registration is not required but it is necessary to protect copyrights legally.
How is copyrighted work identified?
Copyrighted works can be identified with the copyright symbol ©. Copyright owners are not required to register their works with the US Copyright Office before identifying the work with the copyright symbol.
What can be trademarked?
A phrase, word or design (or a combination) that identifies your goods or services, distinguishes your goods and services from others, and indicates the source of your goods or services.
What is the purpose of a trademark?
A trademark protects you from other people using a similar trademark for related goods or services. It protects against counterfeiting and fraud.
A trademark does not mean you legally own a word or phrase and can prevent others from using it. A trademark only gives you rights to how that word or phrase is used with your specific goods or services
What makes a strong trademark?
The more unique, creative and distinctive a trademark is, stronger it is. It’s easier to tell it apart from other trademarks and easier to defend legally.
There are different types of words that can be used in a trademark. Words that you invent yourself are “fanciful” trademarks. Words that have no association with the related goods or services are “arbitrary” trademarks. Words that suggest the quality of the goods or services are “suggestive” trademarks. These are all ways to make your trademark more unique.
What makes a weak trademark?
Using “descriptive” or “generic” trademarks makes a trademark weak and difficult or impossible to protect. They are usually not registerable. Descriptive trademarks use words to describe the goods or services. Using words like creamy to describe milk, leafy to describe trees, or colorful to describe paint are all examples of weak trademarks.
When is your trademark created?
As soon as start using your trademark with your goods or services, you are a trademark owner. Your rights are limited, however. Registering your trademark provides greater rights and protections.
How is a trademarked identified?
You can use ™ for goods or ℠ for services even if you haven’t applied to register a trademark. Once your trademark is registered, you use ®.
I hope this info is helpful. For more information, always go directly to the sources for a!
Read more directly on the official websites: