Are you wondering if you need to copyright or trademark the content you just created? What about your business name, blog posts or all those beautiful photos you keep posting on Instagram?
Maybe you don’t know the difference between copyright and trademark or what either of them really do. If that’s the case then don’t feel bad, you’re not alone.
Copyrights and trademarks are really hot topics these days. This is in large part due to the fact that everyone and their dog seems to have an online business and the amount of content being uploaded to the internet on a daily basis is staggering.
This never-ending desire that humans seem to have for new and interesting information is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand it means that literally anyone with a computer or a smartphone can get their creative juices flowing and start uploading their own amazing content. But on the other hand, there are many unsavory characters waiting in the wings, happy to copy that content and take all the credit.
And so naturally people like you who create their own brilliant content want to know how they can protect it. And more importantly how copyright and trademark play a part in that process. I’m going to give you a quick overview of both copyright and trademark so you can have a better understanding of how they can work to your benefit.
The attorney in me wants to point out that both the copyrightable assets AND the branding/trademark assets you create are called your intellectual property or IP for short. Protecting your intellectual property sounds really complicated, I’m about to show you how easy it can be.
What Is Copyright And How Does It Help Me?
Copyright protects your created content of which you’re the author or artist. This can and does include all your text-copy, photos, webpages, designs, videos, audios, music you compose and create, etc. These are all potentially protectable under copyright law.
Fortunately for all content creators, your rights in copyright are fairly easy to establish. There are substantial national and international copyright laws that protect your content simply by your:
- Creating it and being the author of it,
- Publishing it, and
- Continuing to claim to be the owner and copyright holder of it.
There are some cases when applying for copyright registration is a good idea, but for most online creators, the current copyright laws are usually protection enough.
Now, if you want to know more about how you develop and legally protect your rights to your own creations under copyright law and how to grow the value of your copyrightable business assets, then check out my article [article about copyright]
What Is Trademark And How Does It Help Me?
Trademark is protection for a company and its branding with regards to its names, logos, taglines, designs or images. Basically anything that identifies its brand and distinguishes it from others. Having a registered trademark gives the best legal protection and provides more options when taking legal action against anyone using the same or similar marks without permission.
A good example of a brand that everyone is familiar with is Disney. As you can imagine with a company that big, they trademark nearly everything they create. So if you created a logo for your company that was a beautiful ice princess named Ulsa, wearing a blue gown and living in an ice castle, you’d be getting a terse letter from the Disney legal team. Copy and paste an actual image of Elsa onto your website and you’d get that letter even quicker.
Now you might say that you’re just giving Disney extra publicity for their movie Frozen and they should thank you. But like it or not, you’re NOT Disney and by using their character without a license, you’re creating brand confusion which is exactly what trademark laws were created to prevent. If you have a licensing deal with Disney (go celebrate if you do!) then trademark laws (and a licensing agreement) still protect them in making sure you use that license properly.
Your company may not be as big as Disney, but your registered trademarks protect your brand, logo, images, etc. in the exact same way which is a good thing.
Note: People who offer services instead of products often will call their trademarks or brands “service marks”. It’s essentially the same thing, legally speaking, as a trademark, and the process for applying for either is basically the same.
Before You Apply to Register a Trademark
One major difference between copyright and trademark is that when you are ready to apply for trademark you’ll likely need the help of a qualified trademark attorney. This is not the sort of process most people should attempt on their own. Trademark law is a tricky area so while it will cost some money to hire an experienced attorney, it will cost you more in the long run if it’s not done correctly.
Here are two things you’ll want to consider BEFORE you’ll go to apply for registering your trademark:
1. My first strongly recommended prerequisite for you before filing a trademark application is that your business already be formed and registered as a business entity (e.g., an LLC, corporation, etc.). My general income rule of thumb for your business project before you decide to form a business entity is only $6,000 per year or annualized (which is $500 per month). Still, I recommend you do some more research before forming a business entity, which you can continue with my article [name of Are You Ready For a Business Entity article].
2. My second recommended general income rule of thumb for your business before you seek the help of a trademark attorney in applying for a trademark is having over $10,000 total gross income. That is, in most cases, you’re going to want to achieve at least that income threshold before you can really justify the expense of applying for a trademark (or service mark) and getting it done right.
If you’d like to find more about how you develop and legally protect your rights to your brands and how to determine when you’re ready to go seek the help of a qualified attorney to register your brand as a trademark or servicemark, then check out my article [name of trademark article].
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