Differences Between a Trademark & a Copyright

By Grygor Scott
Copyright is represented by a circled
black copyright symbol image by Angie Chauvin from Fotolia.com

Trademark and copyright are two significantly different types of intellectual property rights. A trademark grants its owner the exclusive right to a "word, name, symbol or device which is used in trade with goods to indicate the source of the goods and to distinguish them from the goods of others," according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO. A copyright grants its owner the exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, perform and display their original works and to control derivative works.


Trademarks and copyrights have distinctly different purposes. Ttrademarks are devices that identify a seller's goods. They prevent mistakes, deception and confusion in the marketplace about the origins of a commercial product or service. They protect a seller's brand and reputation and help ensure that buyers purchase the actual product or service they desire. Copyrights protect "original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression" from unauthorized use, according to the U.S. Copyright Office.

Subject Matter

Trademarks and copyrights cover different subject matter. Trademarks provide protection for distinctive words, phrases, logos, designs, graphic symbols and slogans that are affixed to products or used in connection with services. Copyrights provide protection for literary, artistic and musical works, which include "literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works, such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software, and architecture," states the Copyright Office. Copyright protection does not extend protection to titles, names, short phrases and slogans. A trademark and a copyright can work together, however, by protecting different aspects of a creative work. For example, in an advertisement, a trademark could protect the business logo, product name and slogans, and a copyright could protect the original written expression in the ad copy.


Although not required for legal protection, trademarks and copyrights can be registered with different federal agencies. Trademarks that are used in interstate or foreign commerce are registered with the Trademark Office of the USPTO. Copyrights are registered with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress.


Trademarks have a term of 10 years, which can be renewed for as long as the product or service is in commercial use, according to the USPTO. Copyrights have a term of either the author's life plus 70 years or, for works for hire and anonymous works, 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter, according to the Copyright Office.


A trademark owner may prevent others from using the same mark or a similar mark that may confuse buyers. Trademark law, however, does not prevent others from making the same goods or from selling the same goods or services using a different trademark. Copyright law provides a significant limitation on the copyright owner's right to prevent others from using a portion of their original work without permission. It allows "fair use" of copyrighted material in criticism, news reporting, education, research and other works. Determining whether a specific use of copyrighted material is fair use can be a complex decision based on many factors.

About the Author

Grygor Scott has written professionally since 1991, with a focus on law, government, food and travel. His work has appeared in "New York Resident" and on eHow and other websites. Scott graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina School of Law.