Oh, friends. This is a simple question, but an IMPORTANT one!
There is a difference between a Trademark and a Copyright. The difference is key to figuring out what type of intellectual property you are working with, or need to register!
A Copyright (©) is attached to works of original authorship such as writing, artwork, photographs and many other mediums. A trademark (™ or ®) identifies the brand name of a particular product or service.
Common things that are Copyrighted:
- Online Courses
Common things that are Trademarks:
- Business names
- E-Course names/titles
- Packaging design (registered as trade dress)
Copyrights are registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, and Trademarks are registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. However, copyright protection is automatic, while Trademarks MUST be registered to prevent improper use.
Intellectual property that can be trademarked cannot be copyrighted. Vice versa, intellectual property that can be copyrighted cannot be trademarked.
The ™ symbol denotes a trademark that has not been registered with the USPTO, or is in the process of applying for the mark. The ® symbol denotes that a trademark is registered with the USPTO. A circle c symbol or © is representative of a copyright. A copyright doesn't have to be registered to legally use the © symbol.
A trademark is protected forever as long as proper procedures are followed. It must be renewed every 10 years. During the renewal process, a fee must be paid and use must be shown.
A copyright lasts for the life of the author, plus 75 years. Material that doesn't have an author retains the copyright for 95 years from publishing or 120 years after creation, whichever is shorter.
Trademarks offer protection for a brand like Target. So, if you wanted to open a clothing store called "Target," you wouldn't be able to because Target already has their name registered with the USPTO.
Alternatively, if you wanted to copyright a song, it must be (1) original, (2) creative, (3) in a tangible medium, (4) have authorship, and (5) be in use. This is a lot of technical information, but just know that if you wanted to copyright a song that sounded very similar to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," you wouldn't be able to because it wouldn't be original or creative since the legend, Sir Elton John, has already wrote it!