The Difference Between Copyrighting and Trademarking

The Difference Between Copyrighting and Trademarking

We're sure you have looked at a business logo and seen that curious circled C (©or R (®). Maybe you see just a capitalized TM (off to the side of the artwork. You stop for a moment and ask yourself, those don't look like part of the art - what are those anyway? What you're looking at is either a registered proof of trademark or copyright. These symbols deal with legally claiming intellectual property as your own and it can be a very precarious field to understand. Do not fear, however, as this article will help you make sense of just what copyrights and trademarks are and what they accomplish.


What is a Copyright? 

First and foremost, we need to define the terms copyright and trademark. A copyright is defined as follows: "an exclusive right to make copies, license, and otherwise exploit a literary, musical, or artistic work, whether printed, audio, video, etc." (per  That may sound a bit like legal blabbering, but I'll help you make sense of it: A copyright is geared towards protecting intellectual property and assets that are of literary, musical, and visual forms (think songs, graphics, videos, and photos).


Let's use an example: say you just created a graphic on a digital art software and you really like this graphic. You decide that this graphic would look great on a t-shirt and would probably be a hot seller!  You can hardly control your excitement, so you show your good old friend Timothy your graphic and how sure you are that it will make you rich! Timothy appears to be taking it with a grain of salt and he doesn't say much following your conversation. One day as your walking into town you pass your favorite clothing store and... wait a minute, your design is on a shirt in the window! How could this have happened? You look inside, and Timothy is standing there with a wad of cash and he's just laughing at you.


Hopefully, you don't have a person like Timothy that would rip you off like that, but a copyright protection would have prevented a fiasco such as this. Registered copyright protection allows total rights to the copyright owner regarding reproduction and distribution of his/her artistic goods. The copyright owner can then allow other parties a part of or all the rights to use or distribute his/her asset(s) (ex: a magazine wants to publish a picture of your graphic). The following symbols are generally associated with registered copyrights; if you see this symbol, chances are the work you're looking at/listening to is copyrighted: "©".


What is a Trademark?

Trademarks are a similar form of “copyright” protection, but for a different cause. Trademarks are utilized when a brand wants to protect something it uses to differentiate itself from other brands in the market. The USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) identifies trademarks as follows: "a trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, or design, or a combination thereof, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others".


This may sound a bit redundant, wouldn't some trademarks just be artistic works too, why shouldn't you just use a copyright protection for it? The only difference between this artistic work is that it corresponds to a brand. If you are confused which protection you should use, ask yourself, does this piece of artwork represent a brand or is it simply a solo piece of art?

To help you better understand here are a few trademarks and the company that utilizes them:


i'm lovin' it - McDonalds

JUST DO IT. - Nike

The Geico Gecko - Geico (Mascots are trademarks too!)

eat fresh. - Subway

✓ The rapper name Eminem - yes, you can trademark names as Eminem is more than just a person rapping, it's a brand.


These samples should help you make sense of what a trademark is. If you want to recognize trademarks out in the wild look for the following symbols: "™" and "®". The only difference between these two symbols is that one is registered with a national trademark office and the other is based on common-law. They're both still property that has been trademarked even if one is not registered with an office. If you have something that you wish to trademark, just visit and fill out an application - anyone can do it!


When to Use a Trademark or a Copyright:

Just to reiterate what we have gone over and make sure you understand, you use copyrights for intellectual property that is either artistic, literary, musical, or visual and is not a distinguisher for a brand. Trademarks, on the other hand, are to be utilized when you want to protect a particular slogan, catchphrase, symbol, or piece of intellectual property that is intended to separate your brand from others.

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