When you start a new brand, there are so many different aspects that call for your attention, especially with legal protection. At first glance on a website scrolling down to the footer, it seems that one of the top priorities is marking your online space as copyrighted. With that on each page, your business’s content is safe from copycats, correct? We’re here to debunk what really matters with brand security and why trademarks deserve more attention than copyrights for any business with an online presence.
THE NEW BRAND RESEARCH PHASE
It’s important to acknowledge that when you start a new brand, it’s almost impossible to not be absorbing what everyone around you is doing, especially when it comes to legal terms on a website. It can be an investment to work with an attorney when you’re starting out and the goal is often to DIY as much as you can! With this post, we want to equip you with the knowledge you need in order to make an informed decision for your brand and make sure that the effort you put into securing your digital goldmine actually works the way you are expecting it to work. With all of this information, we want you to know when you can do some of the legal heavy lifting yourself and when it’s worth your time to consult with an attorney.
First off, there’s a reason most new businesses automatically think a copyright notice secures their brand—we see it more online. Far more websites have a “© 2021” symbol in their footer as opposed to the ™ or ® symbol next to their name or tagline. If we see the “© 2021” notice more, doesn’t that mean it’s more effective in securing your brand’s identity?
Spoiler alert, the answer is no, it’s not more effective. To break down the why, let’s dive into what the copyright symbol means and what the trademark symbol means when it comes to brand security.
UNDERSTANDING COPYRIGHT AND THE LIMITS
Let’s start with the almighty © which stands for copyright. The United States Copyright Office defines copyright as anything “fixed in a tangible medium of expression”. In more understandable terms, this means copyright protects the creative work inside your brand, including anything written or artistic like your copy or photos. If you’ve created it, it’s yours. We do recommend that if you have assets that are constantly copied, you formally register your copyright with the government so you can bring legal action against copycats where you can get a substantial amount of monetary damages if the case rules in your favor. (Without formal registration, your hands are tied because it’s your word against theirs in terms of who had the material first.)
So why aren’t copyrights the gold standard of brand protection?
Well, copyright protection only applies to the original creative work within your brand, it does not protect the brand itself, especially those significant markers like your brand name, logo, and tagline.
UNDERSTANDING TRADEMARKS AS THE FOUNDATION
To protect these incredibly important markers of your brand, you enter trademark territory. The United States Patent and Trademark Office defines a trademark as something that “identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.” Essentially, what marks one brand as different from another. We know Coca-Cola is different from Pepsi right off the bat because the brand name and logo are very different from one another.
It’s important to know that trademarks aren’t automatically granted the way that copyright is granted. You don’t get to claim ownership of a brand simply by creating it. Legally, you must ensure that no one else is already using your brand’s name, logo, or tagline and you must have your ownership registered with the government through acquiring a trademark to actually consider the brand yours.
USE BOTH BUT FOCUS ON TRADEMARKS
Now that we’ve laid this out, let’s revisit why trademarks deserve more attention than copyrights. For a firm business foundation, your brand needs a trademark in order to protect its longevity and recognizability. If you neglect trademarks, someone can bring legal action against you to claim your brand as their own. What good is all the work inside your brand if you lose the name, logo or tagline? After your trademark is secured, copyrighting what’s inside your brand will protect your creative prowess and unique offers.
After laying each of these out, now let’s talk about what can be done on your own and when you’ll be grateful for your very own legal team. First, it’s very simple to add a copyright notice to the bottom of your website and this is not something that needs an attorney’s support. The best practice is to put it in the footer of your site so it appears on each page. This is an excellent deterrent against plagiarism for your website content!
For overall brand protection, we have a very helpful tool just below that walks you through how to get started with trademarking protection on your own.
Ultimately, this is why trademarks deserve more attention than copyrights when it comes to your website. It’s a longer process but the brand security is unparalleled after you’ve finished. We’ve found that most brands benefit from working directly with an attorney to trademark their name, logo, and tagline. The trademarking process can take up to a year and the application is a complicated process, if you’re unfamiliar with trademarking and don’t want to risk having to resubmit due to an error and prolong the process, we would love to work with you and take the project off your hands, allowing you to focus on your business. If you’d like to chat further, apply here.
This post is for general education and does not initiate an attorney-client relationship with us. We always recommend consulting a trademark attorney for your brand’s specific needs.