How to Copyright a Logo

by Jennifer Kiesewetter in
green and white braille typewriter symbol

TLDR

  • When you launch your startup, you’ll want customers to recognize you instantly. One way to do this is through a professionally crafted logo. 
  • However, you’ll want to protect your logo legally by copyrighting it.
  • Copyright is “a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as the author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression.” Original works of art can include paintings, musical compositions, computer programs, books, poems, movies, and logos.
  • Copyright does not protect ideas, processes, short phrases, slogans, or symbols. Those are considered "intellectual property."
  • When you secure a copyright, you legally prevent another person or entity from using or copying your logo, giving you protection.
  • Copyright protection is in place as soon as the work is created and fixed in a tangible form of expression.
  • Although a copyright attaches as soon as you create the work, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office gives your startup additional benefits.
  • The standard copyrighting fee is $65; however, the filing fee can vary depending upon what you are copyrighting.  
  • You could inadvertently commit copyright infringement, not knowing a similar work exists.
  • Under the Copyright Act of 1976, both civil and criminal penalties are available, depending upon the infringement.

Think about Coca-Cola’s logo. When you see it, you may think of the soda itself. Or you might think of the company’s jingle. That one image, with the white lettering on the red background, immediately conveys company- or product-specific information — at a single glance.

When you launch your startup, you’ll want people to recognize you instantly as well. One way to do this is through a professionally crafted logo. However, you’ll want to protect your logo legally by copyrighting it.

What is a copyright? A copyright is “a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression.” Original works of art can include paintings, musical compositions, computer programs, books, poems, movies, and, for our purpose here, logos. When you secure a copyright, you legally prevent another person or entity from using or copying your logo -- giving you protection.

In this article, we’re going to explore the ins and outs of copyrighting a logo for your startup.

When it comes to protecting a logo, there is much confusion. Do I copyright or trademark it? The short answer is that you can do both. But first, let’s look at the protections that a copyrighted logo can give your startup.

When securing intellectual property for your startup, it’s critical to understand what a copyright protects. As stated above, copyright protects original works of authorship or intellectual or creative works such as “paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, sound recordings, computer programs, books, poems, blog posts, movies, architectural works, plays” and more. However, a copyright does not protect ideas, processes, short phrases, slogans, or symbols, among others.

If your logo is unique, you may secure a copyright for it, thus protecting the logo’s distinctive nature. Unlike other forms of intellectual property protection,  like a patent or a trademark, a copyright applies as soon as the work is created and fixed in a tangible form of expression.

Additionally, whether or not you register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, if someone attempts to use your logo without your express permission, they infringe on your copyright. Copyright protection lasts for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years.

Although not required, your startup can benefit from copyright registration in the following ways:

“Public Record. When a copyright is registered, it is published in the U.S. Copyright Office's searchable database. Because it is a public record, it is easy for people to find and see that it is a copyrighted work.

Ability to File an Infringement Lawsuit. If your copyright is not registered, you can't file a copyright infringement lawsuit. 

Validity of the Copyright. The registration certificate will provide factual evidence of the validity of your copyright in a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Statutory Damages. Without copyright registration, any financial recovery is limited to actual damages, which can be nominal or difficult to prove. If you register your copyright, you are entitled to statutory damages and attorneys' fees. Statutory damages range from $750 to $30,000. In cases of willful infringement, the amount can be up to $150,000.”

Let’s now look at how to register a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, allowing you to take advantage of the above benefits.

How to File a Copyright Application for Your Logo

If you choose to file a copyright application for your startup’s logo, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the U.S. Copyright Office’s website. Select the Registration tab, and then select Visual Arts.
  2. From there, you’ll complete the online application, completing the required information such as the logo’s creator and a submitted image of the logo, along with the standard filing fee of $65. You can also file through the U.S. mail with a paper application. However, online filing will be faster.
  3. Wait for the U.S. Copyright Office to approve your application, after which you’ll receive your certified registration.

To help guide you through the process, the U.S. Copyrights Office has several videos posted on its website demonstrating how to file for protection of your logo.

What is the Difference Between a Copyright and a Trademark?

Unlike a copyright, a trademark can protect slogans, titles, and names of businesses. Often businesses protect their logos with a trademark, instead of or in addition to a copyright. Trademarks are registered through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Trademark registration protects your logo’s recognition by consumers and the general public, preventing confusion within your industry. After all, you’ve worked hard building your startup. Making sure that people can identify your business from your logo — and not confusing it with other companies -- should be at the top of your to-do list.

Similar to a logo, you can also seek copyright protection for images. If you desire to protect an image, you can file for a copyright registration application in much the same way you did for a logo.

For example, you can file an application through the U.S. mail or online via the U.S. Copyright’s Office website. Like a logo, you’ll complete the application, provide a copy of the image, and pay the filing fee. After processing and approval, you’ll receive a certified copyright registration for your image. Remember, though, once you create the image, whether you register a copyright or not, your image is copyrighted and enjoys certain protections under the law.

Finally, similar to a logo and an image, you can also seek copyright protection for your artwork, filing the same way as instructed above with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, depending on the size of your artwork, you may have to file your application via the U.S. mail as opposed to online, as your artwork’s size may too large to upload. Like your logo or image, once you create your artwork, it legally belongs to you whether you apply for copyright registration or not.

Although the standard copyrighting fee is $65, the filing fee can vary depending upon what you are copyrighting.  Your cost will decrease to $45 if you file as a single author, same claimant, and one work not made for hire. If you choose to file a paper application in Pennsylvania, Texas, or Virginia, you’ll have to pay $125. If you request an additional certified registration, you’ll pay $55.

Of course, these costs are based upon you filing for your copyright yourself, which is easy enough to do. If you choose to have an attorney file for you, you’ll have additional legal fees. All fees are posted on the U.S. Copyright Office’s website.

Although you enjoy copyright protection the moment your logo, image, or artwork is created, copying, displaying, or otherwise using copyrighted works still happens -- otherwise known as infringement. Essentially, copyright infringement means someone is using a copyrighted work in some way without permission from the work’s owner or creator.

For example, some examples of copyright infringement include using copyrighted images or logos on a company website or creating merchandise on which copyrighted artwork is displayed. Keep in mind, though, not all copyright infringement is intentional. You could inadvertently commit copyright infringement, not knowing a similar work exists.

To protect yourself and your startup, you need to understand how copyrights work and what they cover. However, a good start to avoiding copyright infringement is not using any other original work or modifying another original work that you have not created.

Even if you register your logo with the U.S. Copyright Office, the government will not typically let you know if your work is being used elsewhere. As such, for your own copyrighted works, you need to police the mistaken or intentional use of your intellectual property by others. If you believe that logo is being infringed upon, you can notify the infringing party with a Notification of Claimed Infringement, asking them to stop using your logo illegally.

If a notification doesn’t do the trick, then you may need to take legal action against the infringer. Under the Copyright Act of 1976, both civil and criminal penalties are available, depending upon the infringement. For example, penalties can include: “copyright infringement damages and actual profits lost as a direct result of the infringement; civil penalties of up to $150,000 per instance of work, in the case of intentional or willful infringement (such as counterfeiting); statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per item of work infringed upon; or criminal penalties of up to $250,000 in fines per offense and up to five years in jail.”

Part of running a business is protecting yourself against potential copyright infringement and preventing yourself from inadvertently stepping on someone else’s intellectual property rights. Intellectual property, such as copyrights, is a valuable asset of your startup. However, between growing a startup and wearing multiple hats every day as a founder, you may not have time to police your copyrighted logo. In these instances, you should seek expert advice regarding the startup’s intellectual property, allowing you to focus on the business at hand — growing your startup.

We can help!

At AbstractOps, we help early-stage founders streamline and automate regulatory and legal ops, HR, and finance so you can focus on what matters most — your business. If you're looking for help in vetting or hiring an EOR, we help by overall shepherding the process to ensure it's done right. Sign up to get started.

Like our content?

Subscribe to our blog to stay updated on new posts. Our blog covers advice, inspiration, and practical guides for early-stage founders to navigate their startup journeys. 

Note: Our content is for general information purposes only. AbstractOps does not provide legal, accounting, or certified expert advice. Consult a lawyer, CPA, or other professional for such services.

Your cart
    Checkout