So, to summarize, you own your logo, and you’ve considered whether to register it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The final step is to decide whether you should register the logo with the U.S. Copyright Office.
[If you want to skip to the bottom line: the cost to register your logo with the Copyright Office is low, and the benefits can be huge. You should probably do it. OK, read on…]
Remember: copyrights and trademarks are not the same thing. A logo can be protected both as a trademark (because it identifies your business) and under copyright law (because it’s a work of visual art).
If you need a refresher on copyrights, check out What Is A Copyright?
Deciding whether to register your logo as a trademark with the USPTO is complicated, because the trademark process is long and involved and can be costly.
Deciding whether to register your logo as a copyright with the Copyright Office is less complicated. Registering a copyright is fast, relatively straightforward, and much less expensive.
The standard filing fee for the Copyright Office is $65—about a quarter of what a basic trademark filing costs. This doesn’t include any legal fees, should you hire an attorney to file the application for you, but those fees also tend to be much lower than trademark filing fees.
The Copyright Office’s form to register a work of the visual arts (Form VA) is much simpler than the USPTO’s trademark application. You can check out the Copyright Office’s filing process here.
More importantly, if you end up needing to defend your legal rights because someone has knocked off your logo, you may need a Copyright Office registration to do so. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that you need a copyright registration to sue for copyright infringement. So if you try to send a copyright cease and desist letter to someone who’s copied your logo, and you don’t have the Copyright Office registration, they might just ignore your letter.
If you need to rush your copyright filing in order to file a lawsuit or send a cease and desist letter, you can do so—it’s usually filed in a few days—but the Copyright Office charges a special handling fee of $800. Ouch!
More important, you want your logo to be registered with the Copyright Office because doing so entitles you to Statutory Damages of between $700 and $30,000.00 and up to $150,000.00 if the infringement is found to be willful.
However, you can only receive statutory damages for copyright infringement if the registration is filed within (1) within three months of publication of the work [meaning, when the logo goes public], or (2) before the infringement starts.
Translation: if you’ve been using your logo for more than three months, and someone rips it off today, you can’t receive statutory damages if you file the application to register with the Copyright Office today, even if you expedite the filing. You would have needed to file before the infringement started.
So, in summary: the cost to register your logo as a copyright is relatively low, and the rewards can be very high. Bottom line: if at all possible, register your logo with the U.S. Copyright Office.
Need help navigating the copyright process? Contact me.