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These days, art theft isn’t limited to elaborate heists staged at a museum or gallery. With design inspiration being copied or completely stolen in everything from graphic design to fashion, it’s more important than ever to protect yourself and your work. A quick Google search on the allegations and evidence of design theft should be enough to drive home the potential seriousness.
But what about logo design?
Is your logo design safe?
It may seem strange to question whether the logo design should be, or even can be, copyrighted. After all, logos are small branding pieces, and often very simple. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Logos are invaluable as the primary identifier for brands, and an individual company’s reputation is inextricably linked to the logo.
With that in mind, it is prudent for business owners to take steps to ensure the protection of their company logo.
Sometimes a similar or even identical logo design case could just be an unintentional copycat. For example, my company is dedicated to making logo design easy and accessible to everyone, offering a vast library of options in graphics, fonts, and colors. Although they are designed to be editable and need to be shaped to fit individual brand needs, there is always the chance that businesses using the same site could come across similar logo designs. But that’s not the real problem here.
The main danger of putting any proprietary material on the Internet for all to see is the possibility of malicious theft. In other words, someone sees your graphic design or logo and decides to make a deliberate copy of the design, either for their own use or to deceive others into thinking they represent your company. In the case of a logo design that you paid top dollar for to a professional designer, this is even more devastating.
So what can be done about it?
Related: Everything you need to know about using trademarks for your business
Protect your logo design
Can you copyright your logo design? This can be a difficult question to answer directly.
The most common term used for logos and other branding materials is “trademark.” Your logo, trade name and any other identifying assets of your business may have common law trademark rights. Such trademark rights prevent other companies from using your trademark to sell goods or services, but there are limitations. Common Law Trademark Protection only covers the locality where you first started using it.
Related: Lawyer’s confession: those little TM and (R) symbols are more important than I thought
For example, suppose you start a business in Anaheim, California. Your common law trademark protection works for you there, and if someone takes your logo, you can go after them in court. But if you move the business to New York City and find someone else uses the same image in their logo, you can’t force them to change it. They have the benefit of common law protection in their own area of origin.
However, a federally registered trademark broadens your geographic scope of protection. You must file an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). If approved, your trademark will have nationwide protection and will prevent other businesses across the country from using a similar trademark.
One thing to note though, is that logo copyright extends to creative works, which does not include works in the public domain, as they cannot be “owned” by any individual. Many graphics and fonts included in commonly available design software are in the public domain and would not be covered by logo copyrights. Creating a custom design that does not include pre-existing elements is the best way to ensure the best copyright coverage.
For companies that have their sights set on expansion and want to protect their brand from potential infringement by other companies, logo copyrights are worth considering.
Related: How to Create a Logo
How logo copyrights can save a brand
As your business grows and expands, you’ll likely broaden your target demographic to customers outside of your immediate area. To ensure brand continuity no matter where you offer services, logo copyrights can be invaluable.
Logo copyrights also regulate and protect against the use and misuse of your logo, trade name, and other trademarked properties. This is important to make sure that no one is representing themselves as your brand, misleading customers, or making promises that can’t be kept.
To take your brand protection a step further, consider registering your logo as a trademark. Portions of copyrighted material can still be used under “fair use” laws, but if a logo is trademarked, that means no one else can use any part of the logo without legal repercussions.
Whether you’re the business owner or logo designer, it’s worth finding out the details about applying for logo copyrights and registering your logo and other brand materials to protect them from misuse or theft. .