Many people confuse the difference between copyright and trademark.  They are similar in that they both protect specific intellectual property rights, but the types of rights they each protect is very different.  Here is a brief primer on each to help explain the difference.

The US Copyright Office, the official government body that maintains records of all copyrights in the U.S., defines a copyright as “a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States for ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, architectural, cartographic, choreographic, pantomimic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, and audiovisual creations. ‘Copyright’ literally means the right to copy but has come to mean that body of exclusive rights granted by law to copyright owners for protection of their work. Copyright protection does not extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, title, principle, or discovery. Similarly, names, titles, short phrases, slogans, familiar symbols, mere variations of typographic ornamentation, lettering, coloring, and listings of contents or ingredients are not subject to copyright.”  In simpler terms, a copyright protects original works including “literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.” For example, a business can copyright its books, reports, audio or video materials and a musician can protect their original music.  A common misconception about copyrights pertains to when the rights are created.  In fact, a work is automatically copyrighted at the time of creation.  The purpose of registration is to enforce the copyright and registration is required if a business wants to sue over the use of the work by another party.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office states that a trademark protects “words, names, symbols, sounds or colors that distinguish goods and services from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods.”  A trademark (or service mark) identifies a specific classification of goods and services.  This means that a company can register a trademark for its business name, slogans, logos and other items that essentially brand (or identify) the product or company.   Trademarks are an important business asset because control of your business mark allows your business to maintain a brand image and establishes the origin of certain goods and services.  For example, as a consumer when we see a particular trademark, whether Nike or Apple, we immediately know the goods or services related to those marks.  Like copyright, you can obtain legal rights in a trademark without registration. Unlike copyright, trademark rights are not automatic but, instead, come about from use.

For more info or help registering a copyright or trademark, contact Shaw Esquire at

By Nyanza Shaw, Esq.