Copyright and trademarks: made simple

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It is easy to get trademarks and copyright muddled up; they protect intellectual property. However, how they operate and how they are acquired is quite different. Business Kitz has put together this simple blog to help you distinguish between the two. 

Primarily, trademarks protect the ‘signs’ that operate as unique identifiers of a brand. These signs must be registered and renewed every ten years to maintain possession of ownership rights. Alternatively, copyright is applicable to any work of artistic expression, or the original expression of an idea. Copyright is automatically applied, in order to protect creative work from being copied. 

What is copyright? 

Copyright is afforded to a person who creates expressive work, such as art, writing, sound, software programs or anything related to that matter. Copyright is a collection of exclusive rights that deem ownership of creative property under the Copyright Act 1968. This means their permission is needed if someone else wishes to reproduce, copy or communicate their work. If someone does not seek permission before copying the creator’s work, they can lodge an action for infringement. However, copyright only protects the original expression of ideas; not the ideas themselves. 

In the context of copyright for creative work, these rights may belong to an individual (the author) who created the work, or be possessed by a conglomerate, such as a production company or record label. We usually see individual ownership in regards to music, literature and art. Conversely, multimedia productions like sound recordings, films and motion pictures generally may have their copyright possessed by an organisation. 

What is a trademark?

Trademarks protect a company’s personalised brand. A trademark can cover anything that ‘signs’ your distinct brand, such as your brand name, font, shape, colour, scent, packaging or sounds. Trademarks operate on a first-in, best-dressed basis, as the owner of a trademark is whoever uses it first. However, they must register their brand to grant the owner enforceable rights over the branding, under the Trade Marks Act 1995. Trademarks must be renewed every ten years to maintain the owner’s exclusive rights to sell, use and licence their trademark. 

If you wish to protect the branding of your business, it is important to register the signs that make your brand distinguishable from your competitors early on; it will save you in the long run! The most common way to register a trademark is via the online services portal available through IP Australia. 

What else should I remember?

It is important to note that trademarks and copyright often overlap. When a piece of artistic expression becomes a part of a registered ‘sign’ in a company’s brand, we see elements of copyright, forming part of the trademark. A familiar example is a logo, in which the design is often an author’s unique work that is automatically protected by copyright, but has been registered under a trademark as part of the brand’s distinguishable features.

Legal advice

If you are still unsure about the differences between copyright and trademark, you should seek legal advice. If you have found yourself in a trademark dispute, our sister company Legal Kitz can assist you in navigating your options. Our Legal Kitz business specialists can provide you with advice that is tailored to your situation. You can book a free 30-minute consultation with our experienced and highly qualified team via our website now.