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Trademarks & Copyrights: A Basic Introduction

Have you ever been confused as to the difference between trademarks and copyrights?  Has there ever been a question in your mind as to whether or not you have the right to use a logo, well known product name or image in your own custom printed item?  Well, read on and we’ll break it down for you as simply as we can.

First, let’s start off with the definition of “trademark.”  According to the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov), a trademark is “a word, phrase, symbol or design, or a combination of words, phrases, symbols or designs, that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others.”  It’s a fairly straightforward idea.  But, what exactly does a trademark do?

I found a website at www.wipo.int/trademarks that defines very nicely what a trademark accomplishes.

“A trademark provides protection to the owner of the mark by ensuring the exclusive right to use it to identify goods or services, or to authorize another to use it in return for payment. The period of protection varies, but a trademark can be renewed indefinitely beyond the time limit on payment of additional fees. Trademark protection is enforced by the courts, which in most systems have the authority to block trademark infringement.”

“In a larger sense, trademarks promote initiative and enterprise worldwide by rewarding the owners of trademarks with recognition and financial profit. Trademark protection also hinders the efforts of unfair competitors, such as counterfeiters, to use similar distinctive signs to market inferior or different products or services. The system enables people with skill and enterprise to produce and market goods and services in the fairest possible conditions, thereby facilitating international trade.”

We strongly suggest here at PrintMyThing and PrintMyRibbon that you remember the above information before designing any custom printed products.  Ask yourself, “Do I have the legal right to use this logo, word, phrase or design?  Is it mine exclusively?  Or “do I have permission from the trademark holder to use it?”  If not, its advised that your protect yourself by not using the trademarked material in your custom creation.

Now what about a copyright?  Are copyrights and trademarks the same?  No, they protect different things actually.  The  U.S. Copyright Office  defines “copyright” this way:

“Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works. Section 106 of the 1976 Copyright Act generally gives the owner of copyright the exclusive right to do and to authorize others to do the following:

• To reproduce the work in copies or phonorecords;
• To prepare derivative works based upon the work;
• To distribute copies or phonorecords of the work to the public by sale or
other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
• To perform the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and
choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual
• To display the work publicly, in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and
choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural
works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual
work; and
• In the case of sound recordings,* to perform the work publicly by means of
a digital audio transmission.”

The copyright.gov site adds, “It is illegal for anyone to violate any of the rights provided by the copyright
law to the owner of copyright.”

So again, we strongly suggest that before you incorporate any material into your custom design that may be copyrighted, please be sure you have the legal permission to do so.  Our official position on designs that are submitted to us is as follows:

“The customer assumes full responsibility for all claims and/or litigation arising from alleged infringement of licenses, patents, or copyrights on any requested design or copy.”  (See our website FAQ section.)

We hope that this helps with any questions you may have related to trademarks and copyrights.

About Craig

Craig is the E-Commerce Content Editor for PrintMyThing.com and PrintMyRibbon.com. He enjoys spending time with his wife, son and dog. His hobbies include photography and ham radio. (His amateur radio callsign is NM8W.) Craig is also active in welcoming international students to the local university and enjoys learning about other cultures.
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