Logos are often the key identifiers of a business. As the mark with which your customers will identify your products or services, they are central to your business’ brand. Therefore, it is important to ensure others cannot copy your logo without your permission. In this article, we explain whether copyright protects your logo.

Logos as Artworks

The Copyright Act recognises several categories of content that are protected by copyright. One of these is ‘artistic works’. Artistic works include paintings, drawings, cartoons and more. If your logo has a certain level of creativity and originality, it may fall into the category of an ‘artistic work’. For your logo to fall into this category, it must require some level of skill and effort to create. Additionally, it must have been created by a human, not automatically generated by a computer.

While you may not think that certain logos deserve the status of ‘artistic works’, the courts are fairly lenient with this definition. They consider relatively simple logos to be ‘artistic works’ for the purposes of copyright. For example, the court decided that the letter “R” written in a stylish font in the “Rolan Corporation” logo is an ‘artistic work’. Similarly, the court deemed that the “Aussie Home Loans” logo is an ‘artistic work’. Therefore, as long as your logo is original and has some level of creativity, it is likely to be an ‘artistic work’ and therefore copyright protected.

Ownership of Copyright

Additionally, it is important to consider who owns the copyright. If a graphic designer creates your logo, you should ensure there is a written agreement between you that you own the logo. In this situation, you may take ownership of the economic rights of your logo, whereas the creator will always own the moral rights.

Copyright Infringement

If copyright protection applies to your logo, it is an infringement for somebody else to use a ‘substantial’ part of it without your permission. A substantial part is an important, distinctive or essential part of your logo. The court determines this in a qualitative, rather than quantitative, manner. It is a misconception that changing a copyrighted piece by 10% means that you are not infringing copyright. To determine whether a competitor has replicated a substantial part of your logo, consider whether consumers would still associate the new logo with your products.

Exceptions to Copyright Infringement

An exception to copyright that is particularly relevant to logos is ‘incidental’ filming or televising. This covers situations when the primary focus of a film or broadcast is not your logo, but your logo happens to appear in it. If your logo appears in the background of a film or broadcast, the person filming is not infringing upon your copyright.  

Additionally, it is okay to use copyrighted logos in situations of fair dealing. That is when somebody uses the logo for:

  • research or study;
  • criticism or review;
  • parody or satire; or
  • reporting the news.

Differences Between Trademark and Copyright

Trade marks are identifiers used to make your products and services stand out from your competitors’. They include logos, names, colours, shapes and scents: anything that is capable of distinguishing your business from your competitors. When you register a trade mark, you have the right to stop competitors from using your trade mark (or one very similar). The purpose of trade mark protection is to prevent competitors from using deceivingly similar logos and benefitting from your brand.

Copyright automatically covers original content, without the need to register. However, copyright laws do not protect the name or idea associated with the content. Rather, copyright protects the way you express an idea.

For example, slogans and business names do not receive copyright protection, as they are merely ideas or facts rather than a creative expression of ideas. If you want to protect your slogan or business name, you need to register a trade mark.

Even when copyright protects your logo, a trade mark registration reinforces this protection. Both rights work together and simultaneously to protect your brand.

Key Takeaways

Protecting your logo is essential to protecting your brand. It ensures that your products remain distinguishable from your competitors’. Copyright protects your logo if it is creative enough to qualify as an ‘artistic work’. However, many companies still choose to register their logo as a trade mark for reinforced brand protection against copycats

If you need assistance determining whether copyright protects your logo, get in touch with LegalVision’s IP lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.

Eugenia Munoz
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