The law is important. Every savvy business professional should know as much as their head can handle about it. Unfortunately it is a heavy subject, but in bitesize pieces it builds a useful arsenal of essential business knowledge.
One important legal topic that it is vital to have a good beginner’s grasp on is Copyright and Intellectual Property.
So here (broken into easy-to-digest knowledge nibbles) are the 7 important things business owners need to know about copyright and logos.
1 – Knowing what Copyright is
Copyright is a legal concept that deals with the right to copy original intellectual work. If you are the holder of a logo Copyright then you are able to take legal action against someone who has infringed or plagiarised your logo design.
2 – Copyright doesn’t protect ideas – it protects the expression of ideas
Copyright can’t protect an idea because an idea doesn’t exist as an original intellectual work until it has been expressed and recorded.
What does this mean in terms of protecting your logo? It means that the execution is everything. Two logos with a company name and a spanner icon next to them (while potentially being based on the same idea) are still likely to have many aspects that make them different (font used, or the style or placement of the spanner).
3 – You need unique designs to claim copyright for a logo (why you need a professional logo designer)
You can’t claim copyright for a logo that has been created on a free logo maker. This is because they are made using templates so the expression of the idea is not original. This is why you need a professional logo designer to execute your logo design – their original, creative interpretation of your ideas (custom designed from scratch) will be guaranteed to be uniquely expressed.
4 – Be careful with characters if they are inspired by something famous
Characters are protected by copyright, so you have to be careful if you want to draw upon a figure from literature or film in your logo. You can still use the same basic idea or inspiration, but you have to make sure that the character is drawn (expressed) in a genuinely unique way. If you aren’t sure, don’t risk it – get advice from a lawyer.
The best course of action is to start with an original character idea.
5 – Taglines/Slogans might be protected by Copyright
An effective tagline or slogan is usually very short – the most simplified statement of what you do or what you stand for. However, such a simplified ideas which is only 2, 3, or 4 words long will be almost impossible to protect under Copyright as you can’t prove that the expression is unique.
However, if it is a phrase long enough, and complex enough then it might be protected (but it is unlikely to be a good tagline). But if you want to protect a slogan you are probably better off protecting it under trademark (see below).
6 – Your company name isn’t protected by Copyright
Copyright doesn’t protect names in their own right, but your trading name will be automatically protected by ‘Passing-off’ legislation which is designed to stop a person or organisation from poaching trade from a more established company.
7 – Protect your brand’s identity with a Trademark
A trademark is a legal concept which protects the identifying traits of a brand. It can include a name, word, slogan, design, symbol, or anything unique to the identity of the company (or company products). Registered trademarks can be identified by the abbreviation ‘TM’ or the ® symbol (N.B. it is illegal to use this symbol or state that a trademark is registered before it has been officially registered)
How do I actually go about copyrighting my logo, or getting it trademarked?
You don’t need to do anything to copyright your logo! You automatically get copyright protection when you create (or own the rights to) something original. For more details see https://www.gov.uk/intellectual-property-an-overview/copyright
Trademark registration lasts 10 years and is valid in the country of registration. You’ll need to check that your brand qualifies as a trademark, and find out if anything similar already exists. You can then apply to register your trademark. (We’ve written all about places to get information on that here)
For an overview see https://www.gov.uk/intellectual-property-an-overview/trademarks
We aren’t legal experts
We are a design agency and not legal experts. If you have any questions about copyright or trademarks contact your solicitor who will be able to advise you.