How to Copyright a Logo & Trademark a Logo.
Nowadays, printing a logo on clothes has become standard practice for both businesses and many individuals. And there’s no doubt that, here at Fifth Column, we add logos to t-shirts and other clothing on a more or less daily basis. However, there’s an important issue you may want to consider before we print or embroidery your precious design. That is, ensuring your logo is protected and can’t be exploited. With that in mind, we thought it might be useful to look at how to copyright a logo in the UK and whether deciding to trademark a logo is a better idea.
Logo Copyright & Trademark for T-Shirt Printing.
In essence, your logo is your intellectual property. And the brutal truth is that preventing infringement of that property is all down to you. Just how you go about doing so with something like a logo can be a little confusing on the surface. But it’s an easier decision once you get a grip on the basic facts behind those somewhat intimidating ©, ™, and ® symbols. Below, we’ll do our best to remove some of the mystery from such matters, especially in regard to custom printing and embroidery.
What we mean by logo, copyright and trademark.
It’ll be helpful to define some terms before we go too much further. Firstly, what is actually meant by logo?
Well, the word itself is a shortening of logotype. And is generally accepted to mean a graphic or symbol associated with a specific person, company or brand. As such, logos are often used to publicly promote identity, products and services. Quite natural then that they should be printed or embroidered on clothes. These days, there is a vast range of plain clothing specifically designed to be decorated in this way.
Okay then, how about copyright and trademark? In plain speak, copyright is the exclusive legal right to use material that originates with you. Basically, others cannot use a copyrighted logo without your permission. A trademark is similar in that it’s a symbol or words which represents your company or product and can be legally protected.
That said, copyright and trademark are not the same things. And therefore hardly surprising the way to acquire them differs. Let’s examine that.
How to copyright a logo.
The first thing to understand about copyright is you get it automatically when you create your logo. And that doesn’t just apply to a logo, it can include numerous other original works in many spheres. For example, the literary, musical and artistic fields of endeavour. And you may be intrigued to learn something else about copyright. Specifically, there is no official register of copyrighted material in the UK. And that’s not just tittle-tattle, it’s according to the gov website.
However, that’s not to say registers of copyright don’t exist. Indeed, they do. There are several which we won’t reference here because we want to remain independent and therefore can’t offer an endorsement. Suffice to say, they offer a variety of services to assist you in defending your property. And, of course, they charge for said services. It’s your choice as to whether you deem the cost worthwhile.
But remember, you have copyright so long as you can prove ownership. An example of the latter could be the meta data from the creation of the design on a computer. Which brings to mind another thought. That is, don’t be afraid to discuss the subject with the designer in instances where your logo is commissioned from a third party.
Copyright and t-shirt printing designs.
Now, this is a slight digression but one which is relevant. Especially for those of us involved in printing t-shirts. To explain, we’ve printed millions of them. And consequently know there’s a crossover with copyrighting t-shirt designs and logos. Obviously, there are differences with custom artwork and a logo when printed or embroidered on a tee or other clothing. Nevertheless, it’s a topic which is raised with some regularity. We tend to think of it in simple terms. That is, artwork may not necessarily be the single representation of you, your brand or business. Whereas a logo is exactly that.
But like a logo, your shirt design will be a unique piece of work. That’s to say, a design which is yours alone. And therefore is automatically your property. Unless you grant others permission to use it. The degree to which protection is required is also similar in that it’s your judgement. Volume is perhaps the key point here. Registering every design is going to get very expensive if you create numerous t-shirt graphics. Plus, difficult to monitor even when paying for external help.
How to trademark a logo.
Trademarking a logo is another matter entirely. With a significantly different process. By which we mean there is a register in the UK. And in many ways, it’s a more effective method of protecting your brand logo. Although not without complication. The process requires precise information and a lot of preparation. As with copyright, trademark is territorial. And obviously the cost and the administrative effort required increase once you get into the international sphere.
Beyond that, the trade mark registration can involve words as well as the logo. Actually, even sounds, colours or a combination of all may be included. Plus, it requires specification of your area of activity and can have limitations in that regard. The process requires the submittal of your application to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). Further information can be found on the UK government website.
By the way, those small TM letters you sometimes see by words or a slogan signify that rights have been claimed but not fully registered. Whilst it does provide some common law rights, it does not guarantee protection.
Should you trademark a logo or copyright a logo?
Here we are then. It seems there are two main methods of protection with the rights to use a logo. Which obviously begs a question. That being, what should I do with mine?
Well, there is no clear answer with a logo. You’ve got copyright and could pay to register that with an independent company. You could pay a reasonable fee to trademark it. Alternatively, both or neither. It’s really down to what you think is cost effective. And necessary in your circumstances. That said, it’s a fundamental part of your identity, the symbol which folk associate with you or your activity. The idea of it being hijacked or misused by some unscrupulous outfit is vaguely appalling. Yet once again, even the likelihood of such will depend on your particular situation.
Whatever road you take, be prepared to defend your logo should you discover it being exploited. If for no other reason than it’s yours. Perhaps also worth noting that the defence could be as simple as sending an email or writing a letter. Something along the lines of a polite request ‘to cease with immediate effect and desist from further use’.
A couple of observations in conclusion. It strikes us that absolute protection of a logo may not be possible. After all, technology is continually evolving. Which not only brings new means of prevention but also fresh challenges. And that means copyright and trademark will continue to be a twisting conundrum. One which is liable to get more rather than less convoluted. All of that aside, quality clothing adorned with a memorable logo is still, and will remain, both great advertising and a potentially lucrative product.
We hope this has been helpful and shed some light on the area. One final point that we are obliged to mention. Please note, none of the above is legally binding and you should seek independent legal advice before looking to trademark or copyright your logo.