Pop Quiz! What do Taylor Swift and Kanye West have in common? Besides their history at the Video Music Awards (VMAs) and being musicians, they both have registered trademarks for their names.
A trademark? But wait, shouldn’t it be a copyright? Actually, no! A name, whether it’s a brand name or a band name, cannot be protected by copyright. Copyright is just one type of intellectual property (IP). There are other forms, such as trademarks, patents, and trade secrets, each protecting different things. People often mix them up, but worry not! We’re here to explain the differences. In this article, we will focus on the distinctions between copyright and trademarks.
What exactly is a trademark?
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or design that distinguishes and identifies the source of goods or services offered by one party from others. A service mark, on the other hand, denotes the source of a service rather than a physical product. Brand names, slogans, and logos are all examples of trademarks. It’s worth noting that the term “trademark” is often used generically to encompass both trademarks and service marks. Similar to copyright, registering a trademark or service mark is not a requirement for protection, but there are legal advantages to doing so with the USPTO. Sometimes, trademark and copyright laws overlap. For instance, a graphic illustration used as a logo may be protected by both copyright and trademark, as seen with the American Airlines logo.
So, what exactly is a copyright?
A copyright is a set of exclusive rights automatically granted to the creator of an original work. For the work to be protected by copyright, it must be original, creative, and fixed in a tangible medium. These rights include reproduction, preparation of derivative works, distribution, public performance, and public display.
Now that we have a clear understanding of the differences between copyright and trademark, let’s apply this knowledge to an example. Imagine you have a band and you write your own music. If your music meets the criteria of being original, creative, and fixed in a tangible medium, it is eligible for copyright protection. It’s important to note that copyright does not safeguard ideas, or in our case, an idea for a song. Additionally, your band’s name and logo could potentially qualify for trademark protection as they serve as identifying elements for the source of your music.
One of the most frequently asked questions we receive is, “Can you help me copyright my band’s name?” As you now know, in order to protect your band’s name, you would need to consider obtaining a trademark. It’s also important to note that the Copyright Alliance currently does not provide copyright registration services. If you wish to register a copyright, we recommend applying online directly with the U.S. Copyright Office. For trademark registration or to learn more about trademarks, you can turn to the USPTO.
If you still have questions about the distinctions between copyright and trademark, take a look at our informative infographic. We also have a helpful video that discusses the differences. For more information on what copyright protects, visit our copyright basics page.