The following information is adapted from the Library of Congress/United States Copyright Office’s website. Those looking for a more detailed explanation on copyright should consult the U.S. Copyright Office or, for legal advice, an attorney.
What is copyright law?
Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States under Title 17 of the U.S. Code. The protection extends to authors of “original works of authorship,” including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright law to the owner of copyright. Copyright protects “original works of authorship” that are fixed in a tangible form of expression.
Copyright-able works include the following categories:
- literary works
- musical works, including any accompanying words
- dramatic works, including any accompanying music
- pantomimes and choreographic works
- pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works
- motion pictures and other audiovisual works
- sound recordings
- architectural works
These categories should be viewed broadly. For example, computer programs and most “compilations” may be registered as “literary works”; maps and architectural plans may be registered as “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works.” A work that is created on or after Jan. 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death (or, in the case of multiple authors, 70 years after the last surviving author’s death). Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created. The work is considered created when it is fixed in a copy or phonorecord for the first time. Copies are material objects from which a work can be read or visually perceived either directly or with the aid of a machine or device, such as books, manuscripts, sheet music, film, videotape, or microfilm.
What is a trademark?
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, design, combination of letters or numbers, or other device that identifies and distinguishes products and services in the marketplace. A trademark is denoted by the trademark symbol, which is ™, or alternatively by the federal registration symbol, which is ®, if an actual registration filing has been approved by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
A service mark offers virtually the same protection as a trademark, but is used instead to identify and distinguish services, rather than products. When the term “trademark” or “mark” is used, it is understood to include service mark as well. Trademarks are usually synonymous with the brand name or design that is applied to a business or its products or used in connection with services.
Whereas patents and copyrights are basically used to protect the commercial rights of inventors and creators of artistic or literary works, respectively, the basic concept behind a trademark or service mark is to prevent unfair competition.
Trademark law provides protection from other organizations using the trademarked identity or using a name or symbol so similar that it could cause confusion to clients or customers. By identifying a product or service’s source, a mark also serves to protect consumers from deception.
The difference between copyright and trademark
The purpose of a copyright is to protect works of authorship as fixed in a tangible form of expression (see examples in previous section). A copyright protects a form of expression, but not the subject matter of the work.
The purpose of a trademark is to protect words, phrases and logos used in federally regulated commerce to identify the source of goods and/or services. A trademark may also be used to prevent others from using a mark that might be confused with another.