Logos & Copyright

Some basic basics on the right to copy

Copyright is a literal contraction of the phrase ‘right to copy’ and means exactly what it sounds like it does. Copyright protects developers of creative works such as books, articles, music, movies, photography, artwork and even sounds from any unauthorized copying, reproduction or re-distribution of their work. On the internet, it should protect you from blog content scraping and people copying your logo (but experience has shown that this assumed ‘protection’ is often ignored by unscrupulous webmasters who use logo raiding & claims of “fair use” to populate their sites with your content.) There are some complex areas of copyright – the notion of fair use is one – but we can certainly go over some basic basics without 15 pages of legalese.


Automatic protection. However..

You don’t have to put your copyright notices (that little C in a circle) on everything. Nor do you have claim it by writing it out at the bottom of a page – that does serve to neuter any “I didn’t know it was copyright” arguments that may pop up later, even though those never stand up in court anyway. Here’s the skinny – copyright protection is automatic upon creation of any art mentioned previously (but can be registered with the government for an official sanction.) In the context of your brand, copyright would protect any drawings, figures, and unique designs incorporated into your overall logo. It might protect some typography but it would have to be really, really unique. Copyright almost never protects your company name as a word. Overall, copyright is not as absolute as trademark protection as artwork can be “similar” without infringement. You  may have heard that as long as you change artwork by a factor of 10%, you will be “safe” as far as copyright trouble goes. That’s a myth. Copyright law is so complicated and subjective that there’s no way anyone could argue what a 10% change in a particular logo even is, let alone whether you met this imaginary threshold or not.

The “Poor Man’s Copyright.”

You may have heard about the so-called Poor Man’s Copyright which is pretty-much using the US Post Office as a method of copyrighting your artwork, and I suppose in this context, your spanking new logo. It often pops up on design forums as designers advise each other on methods (short of hiring a lawyer) of protecting this or that artwork and is given as free advice by well-intentioned people who, alas, have no idea what they’re talking about.

More logos in our galleryHere’s how a poor man’s copyright is supposed to work – you take your artwork, logo or written piece, place it in a sealed envelope and mail it to yourself, registered mail. The thought behind this is that the US Post Office (as an official representative of the feds – itself questionable) has now ‘date stamped’ your artwork, proving once and for all the date that you’re claiming copyright. You can then put this unopened letter in a safe place, only to be opened as an ‘ah-ha’ moment in a court battle with the unscrupulous hack who’s now laying claim to your work. Must admit, it appears pretty sound. Trouble is, it probably won’t work, as your legal opponent will be able to prove quite readily in court that a poor man’s copyright can be faked (thus rendering it’s legal value moot.)

Why the “Poor Man’s Copyright” is utter nonsense.

Here’s the thing – you can send a registered letter to yourself in an unsealed envelope, and then place whatever you want in the envelope and then seal it. Any lawyer worth their salt would argue this in court and if  a “poor man’s copyright” claim is all you got, your ownership rights are sunk. It’s highly unlikely that any judge would be willing to accept this as evidence of anything other than your ability to send a letter to your home address. Here’s what the US Copyright Office has to say on the matter in their series of copyright FAQs –

Q: I’ve heard about a “poor man’s copyright.” What is it?

A: The practice of sending a copy of your own work to yourself is sometimes called a “poor man’s copyright.” There is no provision in the copyright law regarding any such type of protection, and it is not a substitute for registration.

Guess that settles that.

Growing your copyrights.

There are other methods of proving copyright and more importantly date of claim – publication in a dated periodical (newspaper, magazine, etc) is one of the best. Every use of your artwork creates additional ownership rights and the ability to prove when you created the artwork (ie: before the person who ripped it off.) You can also register your artwork with the USPTO which costs a few bucks, and can take some time (currently – 16 months to get the notice back) but it is prima facie evidence that you are claiming copyright and when you claimed it.

Copyright and working with us.

As a client of The Logo Factory, you might be wondering how this plays out when you work with us. Here’s how – when we design your logo, any and all unique artwork, fonts and what have you are automatically our copyright (we can’t claim ownership to your name because you already own that.) When you finalize your project with us, we send you a copyright transfer document that gives you ALL our ownership rights forever. You then own the copyright and can take the steps above to cement any claim you might have to make in the future. Under some circumstances, you can trademark your logo too (though that’s a little more complicated and you’ll have to jump through a few hoops.)

In closing..

That about covers some basic basics on copyright and your logo but for any *real* legal advice, I suggest you talk to a *real* legal beagle. See, I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on the TV and the opinions upstairs are worth exactly what you paid for them.

(The disclaimer that my *real* attorney demanded I add.)


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