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Trademark vs. copyright: What is the difference?

News and Notes Focused on the 3 Public Faces of IP Law

  • Brand Image Protection - Trademark Law
  • Visual Image Protection - Copyright Law
  • Personal Image Protection - Right of Publicity Law

The Image Protection Law blog has been created in order to share stories and information on the legal aspects of: 1) the marketplace reputation of a company or product captured in its trademark, 2) published or publicly-displayed artwork, photography, and any created visual design, and 3) use of a person's photograph or likeness for product promotion or other commercial purposes.

The "IP3" share at least one thing in common: Image is everything. In these posts let's look at what that means in the realm of intellectual property in the news, but let's also be prepared to explore if there's something more beyond "everything." Don't forget, the intellectual in "intellectual property" doesn't mean smart or brainy, although by nature true creators often are. The word is used to refer to any creation, i.e., a "product of the mind." While this blog will be regularly updated, you are encouraged to share your thoughts on these posts.

When it comes to protecting creative work, it's important for artists from all mediums to know what tools are at their disposal.

Many people confuse copyright and trademark, and they both have their place in creative work. It's important to know the difference and understand what each protects.


A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of goods or services of one party from those of others. This includes brand names, slogans, and logos.

The biggest differences between trademark and copyright are that trademarks do not expire after a set term of years, and registration of trademarks is not a condition to filing an infringement case as is required for copyrights. You can establish "common law" rights based solely on the use of the mark in commerce.

However, there are several advantages to federal registration:

  • The registration provides a notice to the public of the registrant's claim of ownership of the mark
  • The registration provides a legal presumption of ownership nationwide
  • The registration provides the exclusive right to use the mark on or in connection with the good and services set forth in the registration


A copyright is a protection for original works of authorship, including literary, dramatic, musical and other artistic works. A copyright has a set term of years before it expires, and its term begins upon the moment the work is created.

A copyright's duration is dependent on several factors. For works created by an individual, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. For works created anonymously, pseudonymously and for hire, protection lasts 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.

Trademark and copyright both important for artists

Trademark law and copyright law are complex, but both can be vital protections for artists. In the event of a trademark or copyright violation, an intellectual property lawyer experienced working in trademark and copyright cases can help defend your work through preventing continued use by infringers or achieving monetary compensation.

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