Sutton Sachs Meyer

Skilled Attorneys, Trusted Advisers

What is the Difference Between a Copyright and Trademark?

On Behalf of | Mar 1, 2016 | Firm News

No doubt you’ve heard of Copyrights and Trademarks. You see copyrights in books, on the web, and throughout different media. You’ve also seen trademarks and you may be wondering how those relate to intellectual property and why you aren’t seeing a copyright instead. Copyrights and Trademarks are used to protect intellectual property, but the way they are used varies according to the property. Let’s look at each of them.


Copyrights protect the tangible form of an author’s or authors’ work. It protects the rights of creative works such as books, songs, movies, film, television, art, photographs, choreography, paintings, and web content. The copyright is in place to prevent illegal use of the creative piece. The copyright lasts the life of the author plus 70 years. If the author isn’t known, the author created the piece under a pseudonym, or if the work was a work for hire (meaning that the author forfeited their rights in lieu of pay), the copyright lasts 95 years from the date it was first published, or 120 years when the creative work was first creative, whichever of the two is shorter.

This is why when we see copyrights, we see them related to books, web content, magazines, and movies. These things are tangible creative works. Creative works do not need to be registered to be copyrighted, although registering copyrights are a good idea when there is a concern about who is the actual creator or rights holder. Copyrights are asserted by the word Copyright or the symbol ©, usually along with the date.


Now, let’s look at trademarks. Trademarks are something businesses use to differentiate products. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a “trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” That means that when you see a logo, slogan, or brand name, chances are very good that it is trademarked. Look around you and you probably have items that have been trademarked in one way or another. Whether it’s the Nike “swoop,” the McDonalds’ Golden Arches, or the Verizon slogan, “Can You Hear Me Now? Good.”, you will find trademarks everywhere. Even the names of companies and products are trademarked so that other companies don’t take business away from them. Can you imagine if another fast food company was named Burger King? Imagine the confusion that would cause.

Another type of protection along the lines of the trademark is the service mark. Service marks resemble trademarks except that the item that is being protected isn’t goods, but rather, services. So if you have a particular cleaning service such as Servicemaster does, chances are you also have service marks on services such as Merry Maids.

Like copyrights, trademarks and service marks do not need to be registered and may display TM or SM to show common law ownership of the trademark or service mark. If the trademark or service mark is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the person or business may display the ® symbol.

Which One Do You Need?

If you want to register creative work, you will need to file your work with the United States Copyright Office. Remember that the moment your work is created it is under copyright, so you do not need to do this unless you believe there is a definite need to assert your copyright. Trademarks (and service marks) don’t necessarily need to be registered, but it’s a good idea with as many businesses as there are, you don’t want your winning slogan or logo used by someone else and have the hassle of trying to prove that you were the first to come up with it. Both are useful tools for the businessperson and need to be considered when running a business.