Don’t tell any of my girlfriends, but I still confuse the two most dominate boy bands of the ‘90s: the Backstreet Boys and *N’SYNC. Perhaps they are intertwined in my mind because both vocal groups were founded by the (in)famous music mogul Lou Pearlman and shared a teen-friendly pop style. It probably doesn’t help that their incredible level of success and time in the spotlight were so similar. The bottom line is I honestly couldn’t tell you which band released the the album Millennium or starred Justin Timberlake. (In my defense, I was more likely to be listening to Skillet or Five Iron Frenzy).
In the same way (okay in a completely non-embarrassing way), it’s common to confuse and interchange the terms copyright and trademark. While both copyrights and trademarks offer intellectual property protection, they cover different concepts. Understanding the basic distinctions between copyright and trademark, however, is absolutely critical to protecting your intellectual property assets. It’s also essential to responding to someone claiming infringement.
Generally speaking, a copyright protects any original piece of work—such as a literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, or other intellectual work—from being reproduced without the permission of the owner. A trademark protects any words, names, symbols, sounds or colors (and any combination of these elements) used to identify a product and signify its origins. While a trademark is extremely valuable to its owner, the ultimate purpose of a trademark is to protect consumers by informing them where the goods or services originate.
There may be circumstances where a work could be protected by both copyright and trademark law. For example, suppose an organization creates an original logo to promote its products. The organization may seek copyright protection in the logo’s artwork or creative design and may also seek trademark protection as to the logo’s words. The copyright would prohibit someone else from reproducing the logo while the trademark would prevent any use of the logo in the marketplace that may confuse consumers as to the origin of goods.
Considering how complex intellectual property law can be, I’ve prepared an (overly simplified) chart comparing copyright and trademark that you can use as a guide in familiarizing yourself with the concepts. You can download it here!