You’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort to come up with the perfect logo for your business. How can you protect it so no one steals your idea? You might wonder, “How do I copyright my logo?” The process to ensure your creative efforts don’t get stolen is easier than you might think. Registering your copyright with the appropriate government office can even help in a situation where you have to litigate intellectual theft.
However, there are also some things you must be aware of, such as not being able to copyright or trademark common words and symbols. To navigate the complex world of copyrights, you’re really better off if you can afford to hire a lawyer well-versed in the process. If you’re on a tight budget, there are still some things you can do to protect yourself and your company assets.
How Do I Copyright My Logo For Free?
There is a registration fee for copyrights and trademarks. Even if you slog through the paperwork yourself, you’ll still have to pay filing costs. However, there are some rules you should be aware of that might protect you in some instances without spending a dime.
You can establish a “common law trademark” by using your logo as part of your business operations. Talk to a legal expert or call the United States Library of Congress and the Patent and Trademark office for details. The staff at government offices can be quite helpful. Explain you’re on a budget and that you have a few questions.
You could also seek help from the local branch of the Small Business Administration. They have a list of retired business professionals and tax experts who might offer some basic advice to get you started.
You can file paperwork on your own, but you will have to pay filing fees and you may run into issues if you’re unsure how to best navigate the system. Copyrights and Trademarks must be renewed frequently, so be aware of how long the term is and what filing fees you’ll incur to renew.
Consider the cost of copyrighting part of the expense of doing business. Copyright fees are fairly inexpensive, typically under $100. However, trademark fees run into the $100s and the process is much more complex. What are the steps you need to take to copyright/protect your brand image?
1. Choose Trademark or Copyright
A trademark tends to protect words and slogans, while a copyright protects the design. You may need both to fully protect your intellectual property and prevent misuse. You must renew trademarks every 10 years. Pay attention to terms as filing online might seem easier than physically mailing a form, but can result in earlier renewals and additional fees.
Copyright is what you’d use to protect content written on your site or images taken by an employee. You may need to get your staff to sign off in a work-for-hire agreement. Again, copyright can be tricky to navigate. Hire an attorney well-versed in copyright law to avoid major errors.
2. Protect Your Site
Around 4.66 billion people use the internet, creating lots of room for fraud and copyright infringements. Protect your designs by disabling right clicking or watermarking images. You can also include a copyright notice on your page.
Many people aren’t aware of copyright regulations. Others don’t care. Different countries may not be subject to another country’s laws. Those who would exploit companies by stealing their content know how to skirt the law and don’t care if you have copyright or not.
You can file Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) with Google and get some of the theft shut down. At a minimum, set up Google alerts to notify you when a title you’ve used appears elsewhere.
Track traffic and make sure no one is hotlinking to your logo. While you can’t prevent every instance where someone uses your logo improperly, you can be proactive and reach out with a cease and desist letter or even take legal action when needed.
3. Do Your Research
Make sure your logo is truly unique and doesn’t resemble already copyrighted works. Many logos are a bit cookie cutter, simply using a pretty font and changing up the words. Do research to ensure you aren’t using the exact colors, shapes or fonts of another business, particularly competitors. You don’t want to be on the wrong end of a copyright or trademark suit.
Visit the Copyright office website and go to “Search Public Catalog” to conduct a hunt for copyrights registered since January 1978. When filing for your own copyright, you’ll need to include details on research you’ve done, but the office will also do their own investigation. It’s better to be disappointed someone else is using your name or a similar logo than to spend thousands on marketing campaigns and web design only to find out you can’t use a name, word or design.
4. Gather Proof
You’ll need to submit your logo and any other identifying details when filing for a copyright. Go ahead and print out your final design and any associated paperwork where you made the design or hired a contractor and now own all rights.
You should also print out all copies of research and details on how you ensured your logo was unique. What is different about your logo that earns it copyright status. The more detailed you can be, the less chance they’ll deny your copyright/trademark. The process is lengthy and can be expensive, so if you’re filing on your own, do your best to check off every box and avoid a denial.
5. Fill Out Paperwork
You can either file for official copyright registration online or print and mail the forms. Check all fees and length of registration to ensure you get the best deal possible. It is typically faster to file electronically.
In the United States, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus another 70 years. A federal trademark lasts approximately 10 years and you’ll need to renew. You also must continue using the logo or trademarked item in your regular course of business.
You can fill in the details online and then print out the forms to send into the U.S. Copyright office. You will pay a registration fee but it’s minimal. With digital filing, you’ll receive an email confirmation the form was received. With snail mail, you’ll need to use certified mail or delivery confirmation.
6. Enforce Your Copyright
Start using the copyright symbol–the letter “C” inside a circle–on your website and other places where your logo appears. If someone uses your logo without your permission or outside of fair use, act immediately. The more you let it slide when people use your logo, the more you establish a pattern and it makes it harder to prove damage in court should it ever come to that.
Trademarks and copyrights must be protected to maintain their integrity. An example of one company that fiercely protects its brand image is Disney. If someone uses their images, name or anything else they’ve trademarked or copyrighted, they have a team of lawyers ready to spring into action.
Some luxury clothing brands go after people selling items claiming to be from them. With so many counterfeits available, it makes sense to prevent inferior products from being sold to consumers and ruining the original company’s reputation.
Why is preventing misuse of your logo so important? Even if you accidentally let your copyright lapse, if you can show you’ve continued to use and protect it, reinstatement is much easier.
7. Get Valuable Mentions
Adding a copyright notice to your website gives other parties the information needed to get in touch with you. Sometimes people want to use a paragraph for a long quote, share your infographic on social media or include you in a book.
Make sure your contact info is easy to find. You can even add a note to contact you for permission to use the material.
How Long Does It Take for the Copyright to Come Into Effect?
Perhaps you started off on a penny budget and started adding content to your free site. As the blog grew, you realized you should probably put some protections in place to avoid intellectual theft. How long does it take from start to finish to copyright your website or other work?
For writers, the second they put words down, they are copyrighted to that author. Proving they’re yours may be a bit more difficult. For the purposes of legal registration, your copyright starts when the office receives your application and filing fee.
Should I Copyright My Logo or Trademark It?
If the design is artistic and unique, you’ll want a copyright. This will protect any specialized angles, designs and symbols drawn specifically to represent your business. On the other hand, perhaps you’re using unique language or colors and want to trademark those.
Keep in mind you can’t trademark a common word, such as “hats.” You can copyright a phrase or specified usage. There are many gray areas when it comes to copyright and trademark registration, so if you’re uncertain, consult a legal professional well-versed in copyright law.