Before You Copyright, Here’s What You Should Know
Did you know that there are some protections built in on behalf of a new brand, even before they file for a copyright or trademark?
In the United States, it’s called a “common-law copyright,” and it kicks in the moment that you print or publish your creative work. This is a federal law that ensures that “copyright rights vest in the author of the copyrighted work,” protecting, “‘original works of authorship’ like literary, musical, and other types of artistic work as long as they are fixed in a tangible medium (such as paper, canvas, or a recording),” according to John DiGiacomo at Revision Legal). Some states have more extensive copyright laws built in, such as California’s provision that protects creative works even when not yet “fixed in a tangible medium.”
In the case of infringement that appears to be covered only by common-law copyright, it’s possible to bring the issue to court. But it can be more difficult to prove ownership of the logo design, and harder to win the case.
Common-law copyright is limited to a degree, however. It applies within the location in which the brand was started, but does not extend to other areas. If you launch a business based in Washington DC, your logo is protected in that area and you can take infringement cases to court. However, if someone in New York City uses a logo similar or even identical to yours, you cannot expect that common-law copyright will protect your right to exclusive use. This is a big part of why companies decide to copyright or trademark their logo: it has a potential impact on the reach of their target audience and ability to market themselves uniquely outside of their home territory.
Another important factor to weigh in the question of whether or not to copyright and trademark your logo is the individual elements used in the logo design. Most elements that are commonly available, such as graphics and fonts in templates found on LogoDesign.net and other public design software, are in the public domain. (For more information on how public domain and fair use works, Stanford Libraries has a useful article here.)That means that they do not fall under the protection of creative works copyright, and cannot be claimed as copyrighted proprietary material by an individual.
For example, the FAQ for LogoDesign.net states clearly, “All logo design templates featured in our database are designed and owned by LogoDesign.net. No copyrights can be given because these designs are downloaded and used by other users like you.”
This is another key point to keep in mind when deciding whether to pursue copyright and trademark protection. Unless your logo design is completely bespoke and individually designed for you, without using pre-existing elements, you cannot copyright it.
However, common-law copyright usually extends to business names and some other common business identifiers and branding assets, so even a company with a logo that uses public domain assets has some level of protection.