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These days, art theft isn’t restricted to elaborate heists staged in a museum or gallery. With design inspiration being copied or outright stolen in every arena, 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 bring the potential seriousness home.
But what about logo design?
Is your logo design safe?
It may seem strange to question whether logo design should be — or even can be — copyrighted. Logos are small pieces of branding, after all, and often very simple. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Logos are invaluable as the main identifier of brands, and the reputation of an individual company is inextricably linked with the logo.
With that in mind, it’s prudent that business owners take measures to ensure the protection of their company’s logo.
At times, a case of similar or even identical logo design could be merely an inadvertent copycat. For example, my company is devoted to making logo design easy and accessible to all, and provides an extensive library of choices in graphics, fonts and colors. Though they’re designed to be editable and should be molded to fit the individual needs of the brand, there’s always the possibility that companies who use the same site could potentially find themselves with 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 theft with malicious intent. In other words, someone sees your graphic or logo design and decides to make a deliberate dupe of the design — either for their own use or to mislead others into thinking they represent your company. In the case of a logo design for which you’ve paid a professional designer top dollar, this is even more devastating.
So what can be done about it?
Related: All You Need to Know About Using Trademarks for Your Business
Protecting your logo design
Can you copyright your logo design? This can be a difficult question to answer straight.
The more common term used for logos and other branding materials is “trademark.” Your logo, business name and any other identifying assets of your business may have common law trademark rights. Such trademark rights prevent other businesses from using your trademark to sell goods or services — but there are limitations. Common law trademark protection only covers the locality in which you first started to use it.
Related: Attorney Confession: Those Little TM and (R) Symbols Are More Important Than I Thought
For example, let’s say you start a business in Anaheim, California. Your trademark protection from common law works for you there, and if someone takes your logo, you can pursue them in court. But if you move the business to New York City and find that someone 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 home area.
A federally registered trademark, however, extends your geographical reach 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, however, is that logo copyright extends to creative works — which doesn’t include works in the public domain, as they can’t be “owned” by any individual. Many graphics and fonts that are included in commonly available design software are part of the public domain and would not be covered by logo copyright. Creating a bespoke design that doesn’t include pre-existing elements is the best way to ensure the best copyright coverage.
For companies that have an eye on expansion and want to protect their brand from possible infringement by other companies, logo copyright is worth considering.
Related: How to Create a Logo
How logo copyright can save a brand
As your business grows and expands, you’ll likely extend your target demographic to customers outside your immediate area. To ensure branding continuity no matter where you offer services, logo copyright could be invaluable.
Logo copyrights also regulate and protect against the use and misuse of your logo, business name and other trademark properties. This is important to ensure that no one is representing themselves as your brand, misleading customers or making promises that can’t be kept.
To go a step further in protecting your brand, consider trademarking your logo. Portions of copyrighted material can still be used under “fair use” laws, but if a logo is trademarked, that means that no portion of the logo could be used by anyone else without legal repercussions.
Whether you’re the company owner or a logo designer yourself, it’s worth finding out the details about filing for logo copyright and registering your logo and other brand materials to be protected against misuse or stealing.