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Copyright vs Trademark

What is a copyright?

Copyrights protect original artistic works. That includes things like photos, books, movies, songs, paintings, software code, architecture and even the article you are reading right now. Copyrights give their owner the exclusive right to reproduce and profit off the underlying work.

The underlying principle is simple; If you create something original, you get to choose what to do with it. Copyrights are automatic at the time of creation, but you can register with the government to get stronger protections.

Confused? Creators are not required to register their original creative work before copyright exists because rights exist automatically when the work is fixed in some tangible form. But creators should register it for further protection.

Registration comes with many real benefits, like the ability to seek $150,000 in statutory damages. If your copyright is not registered, you must seek actual damages, which are often much lower and usually much harder to prove. Long story short, if a dispute arises, your life will be a lot easier if you have registered your copyright.

Copyright registration is easy (no need for a lawyer) and inexpensive. You can do it yourself online, and fees are currently $65 for most registrations, but can be as low as $45.

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What is a trademark?

When most people think of trademarks, they think of brand names like Coca-Cola, Apple or McDonald’s. These are good examples, but the category is even broader.

“A trademark protects a word, phrase, symbol or device — the mark — used in commerce to identify and distinguish one product from another. The slogan “I’m lovin’ it” is a trademark of McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola was granted a trademark on the design of its curved glass bottles.

Trademarks help businesses and the public by making the differences between products clear. Anyone can start a soda company, but only one soda can be called Coca-Cola. There are many hotel chains, but only one is called the Four Seasons. There are many cafe companies, but only one Starbucks. There are many airlines, but only one Delta.

But just because a company has a trademark for one type of product doesn’t mean other companies can’t use the same name for a different type of product.

Filing for a trademark costs at least $225 per class of goods but can easily cost over $1,000 with legal help. Although a lawyer is not required to file, the trademark registration system is more complicated than that for copyrights, and can involve objections from examining attorneys at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

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