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What is the difference between copyrights and trademarks?

| May 10, 2018 | Federal Crimes |

Many businesses, authors and artists are concerned about protecting their intellectual property and turn to federal law to make sure their work is registered. Generally, people in Minnesota understand intellectual property protections take the form of copyrights and trademarks. But what is the difference between these two categories? Although they offer important legal protections for intellectual property, copyrights and trademarks are not one and the same.

According to, federal law defines copyright protections as applying to works that are created in a fixed form. These works have to be original, meaning they cannot be copies of works created by another individual or entity. Popular examples of copyrighted works include books, movies, television shows, pieces of art and music. In addition, copyright can also be used to protect internal documents or audio-visual works created by a business. Generally, copyrights can be applied to many different kinds of intellectual property.

Trademarks, however, are more applicable to an image or an identifying symbol. A major corporation, for example, may want to protect their business logo. Their logo is used on their canned goods, so the logo is valuable as identification. Registering the logo as a trademark will thus protect it from infringement. Trademarks can be applied to any word, name, symbol, color or slogan that identifies one business from another.

Trademarks are also more complicated to register. Copyrighted works are considered protected from their moment of completion, but if an individual or a business wants to lay the legal groundwork for protecting their property from unauthorized use, they must register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. A trademark, on the other hand, is not automatically protected. The person filing for a trademark must make sure the image or logo is not too similar to an already trademarked image. Sometimes the person seeking to file a trademark may need to seek legal counsel for advice. 

Both copyrights and trademarks are important for protecting your intellectual property, but you would apply them in different ways. If you owned a restaurant with a mascot in a chef’s hat adorning your restaurant’s logo, the mascot would be trademarked, but if you published little children’s activity books with the mascot in them as a promotional tool, the books would be copyrighted.

This article is intended to inform readers on intellectual property law and is not to be considered legal advice.