Learn the differences to protect your stuff.
Here we go…
Copyright is the exclusive right to control reproduction and commercial exploitation of a creative work.
By default, the creator of an artwork is the owner of its intellectual property. Personally, I always choose to share ownership of the copyright with the client – this means that my client has my legal permission to use the design that my brain and I created. However, under U.S. law neither of us have rights to legally enforce the copyright until it has been registered. Therefore, if another designer were to plagiarize my work and register for its copyright before you (the client) or I do (and assuming we haven’t yet filed for any other form of legal protection for our logo), then that mark becomes legally theirs. Jerks.
Registering a copyright is the easiest way to establish who owns the particular work in question. In order for a work to have copyright protection it must reach a requisite level of creativity. Many logos do not have the required level of creativity to qualify for copyright protection. However, many ornate or artistic ones do. Copyright registration can be completed online for as little as $35. [www.copyright.gov]
A trademark is about protecting things that identify a business in the marketplace. Logos are among the most important means of identification, however one can choose to trademark a phrase, a sound, even a particular set of colors – so long as it’s distinctive in identifying the goods or services of one company from those of others – meaning consumers must recognize it as representative of the brand, rather than just a decoration.
Trademark is more limited than copyright in that where copyright is designed to protect against unlicensed copying that is outside fair use, trademark only deals with use of the mark that causes confusion in the company’s particular marketplace. For example, Ace Hardware is a trademarked name, but they can’t stop Ace Bandages from also using the name as they are in separate markets.
Only those with valid federal registrations are allowed to use the ® symbol; doing so provides notice that the mark is claimed as an exclusive right. Since the vast majority of businesses would rather avoid a lawsuit with you, letting the world know that you’re claiming the rights to a particular mark buys you a shortcut in court and could end up saving you thousands of dollars in future litigation.
Trademark registration is worthwhile in that it offers your brand enhanced protection, however the process required to attain the registration can be timely and expensive ($300 to complete the process on your own / upward of $1000 if you decide to hire a trademark attorney to prepare and file the application).
A logo may have two forms of intellectual property protection – trademark to prevent others from using it to cause confusion in the marketplace and copyright to prevent most other unwanted copying – nothing makes the two rights mutually exclusive.