If you’re worried about how to protect your business logo to stop others from using or copying it, then Copyright will generally come to your rescue. Among the multitude of other creative works it protects, Copyright will often protect logos as ‘artistic work’.
Copyright generally arises automatically upon creation and fixation <what does this mean?> of the work (i.e. the logo), without the need for registration or payment. Therefore, it requires very little investment compared to other types of Intellectual Property Rights, such as trademarks or patents. It is also provides rights over a longer period when compared to the other types of Intellectual Property Rights and, for logos, would last for the life of the creator plus 70 years.
Even though you don’t need to register copyright works in most jurisdictions, it’s still good practice to get into the habit of marking copyright works with the international copyright symbol (the ©, followed by the name of the creator and the year it was created). Doing that can help make it clear that you’re aware and serious about your rights, and proactive in protecting them.
However, copyright will only protect logos to the extent that the logo is original, meaning the author has expressed their creativity by making free and creative choices. This will be a question of fact in each case, but the examples below (although judged under U.S. law) help to illustrate a few examples of logos which have been refused copyright protection (by the U.S. Copyright Office) as not having met the requisite originality threshold:
The examples above show that there is a trivial or ‘de minimis’ threshold, whereby conventional, commonplace and basic geometric shapes and designs, and familiar symbols and colours are usually elements ineligible for copyright protection (as are short words and phrases). An exception may be available though if they are perhaps arranged together in an original way to make the overall result unique and creative.
Due to this uncertainty and even where copyright protection is guaranteed, it’s always a good idea to protect logos with trademarks if they are important to your business. Copyright alone has problems of proof of ownership (due to the lack of a registration regime) and copying (as someone may be able to claim that they came up with a similar logo independently without reference to your version).
Having both registered trademark and copyright protection for logos gives a level of protection which increases your chances of successfully stopping others from stealing your Intellectual Property.
Finally, it’s crucial to be aware that whenever you’re using external freelance contractors to develop creative output (such as logos) for you, they will own the Intellectual Property rights in those creations. That will be the case even where you’ve paid and commissioned them to create the work. So if ever you use external consultants or agencies to create copyright works for you, it’s vital to get a written signed assignment of Intellectual Property from them wherever possible. Without this, the agency or contractor may be able to stop you using the logo in certain contexts or sell it to other businesses (even your competitors!) for use by them.
Questions about copyright law?
If you need help to protect your creative work or you are not sure if you are a copyright owner you can contact our expert copyright law lawyers to find out.
Where you need to transfer ownership of copyright to or from another party, or simply put in place a contractual right to use a copyright work, we can draft copyright assignments and licence and royalty agreement to help you generate maximum revenue. As well as drafting copyright notices/disclaimers and online copyright notice and take-down policies, our copyright solicitors also handle cease and desist letters and general infringement actions and has a strong record of success.