NOT your logo
June 3, 2009 10:36 AM   Subscribe

What's the cheapest, simplest, most effective way to stop somebody else from owning my logo?

I have a logo (image only, no words) that I have ambitions of using as a sort of stamp in a bunch of related online (and not) creative projects. My concern is not about denying use of this image to others (information does want to be free etc). Rather, I don't want someone else to be able to walk in, claim my image as their own and stop me from using it.

Am I being paranoid here or is there some cheap, simple, prudent, effective step (or steps) that I should take to protect myself?

In terms of jurisdiction, I'm thinking the world in general, North America in particular.
posted by philip-random to Law & Government (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to a trademark lawyer. He or she should do a free consultation to present your options, and then you can choose to pursue whichever option sounds best to you.
posted by jedicus at 10:41 AM on June 3, 2009

You need a lawyer to register a trademark or servicemark. There is research involved; you can't really do this on your own - at least I wouldn't if I were even partly serious.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:41 AM on June 3, 2009

® is your friend. You can file yourself, use Nolo Press's usually excellent products, or hire a proper trademark attorney to handle this.
posted by @troy at 10:44 AM on June 3, 2009

If your concern is being sued by others for the use of your creative property, then a copyright registration would probably be prudent- IANAL, but did speak with one about this recently, and he suggested simply registering online with the copyright office. It's $35, and prooves that you registered the design on the specified date.

FWIW, this seems like kind of an unlikely situation- most plagiarists are unlikely to sue.
posted by jenkinsEar at 11:02 AM on June 3, 2009

You can trademark it for about 500 bucks at Legal Zoom.
posted by spilon at 11:03 AM on June 3, 2009

Best answer: I should also mention that if your logo is sufficiently creative, it may be eligible for copyright protection. The fact that your logo is an image rather than a word or phrase is probably to your benefit in this regard, but you should talk to a copyright attorney.

Copyright law is much more uniform throughout the world than trademark law. Copyright registrations are also generally much cheaper than trademark registrations and have fewer requirements. Again, talk to a competent attorney, but it could be that copyright is the cheaper and more effective route, depending on your purposes.
posted by jedicus at 11:07 AM on June 3, 2009

I am not your lawyer. I think jenkinsEar is right - it would be odd if a plagiarist tried to steal your image and THEN tried to sue you to block you from using it. I suppose it's conceivable that someone could try sending DMCA takedown notices based on purloined images, which would be deeply annoying. (And indeed, I've read stories about YouTube taking down videos belonging to owners at the behest of thieves who stole and re-posted or re-used those videos!) But that's potentially a problem no matter what you do - people can always file false DMCA claims.

Because your logo is an image, as jedicus and Jenkis suggest, you may be able to make a copyright filing. Note that, assuming the logo is copyrightable, you already own the copyright to the image. A copyright filing - which is easy and only costs $35 - just entitles you to certain extra legal rights (largely only applicable if you do the suing). But probably the biggest advantage is that it might help scare off miscreants: "I officially own the copyright to this image, so bugger off," etc.

Hiring a lawyer sort of seems like overkill to me, especially since you don't care if others use this image.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:18 AM on June 3, 2009

Response by poster: I like the notion of pursuing this is a copyright concern, if possible. Does this then mean I could go the Creative Commons route? Again, to reiterate, I don't really care about unauthorized use, I just don't want to get outright burgled after doing a lot of work to essentially "establish the brand".
posted by philip-random at 11:26 AM on June 3, 2009

Best answer: A few very general points from a U.S. trademark lawyer who is not your U.S. Trademark lawyer:

I have a logo (image only, no words) that I have ambitions of using as a...

If you are not yet using this design as a trademark (i.e. using it publically in conjunction with your "online projectsā€¯), and you do not expect to begin doing so within the reasonably near future, you are not currently entitled to trademark protection under U.S. law. Someone in your circumstances may want to explore registering a copyright on the design instead (or in the meantime), and copyright registration applications are considerably cheaper than trademark applications. A copyright registration might allow you to prove that you did not copy your design from another party should it become necessary in the future to have to prove this (please do not think that mailing yourself a copy of your design in the mail will do this.) A copyright registration might not give you priority over similar-looking designs and/or designs being used as a trademark. A lot will depend on how complex and original your design is.
posted by applemeat at 11:26 AM on June 3, 2009

Best answer: I don't want someone else to be able to walk in, claim my image as their own and stop me from using it.

Am I being paranoid here

Yes. Once you create the logo you have a copyright in it. Registration is about enforcement. Also, once you start using it you have established trademark rights in your logo. They are limited to the geographic region in which it is used and to the products or services for which you use the logo. Registration increases the region of use to the whole country. The wikipedia artlcles on trade mark and copyright laws are not bad and the US Patent and Trademark Office and the US Copyright Office websites also have lots of good information.
posted by caddis at 12:48 PM on June 3, 2009

Once you create the logo you have a copyright in it.

A big drawback to unregistered copyrights is that "having" a copyright, and proving that this copyright trumps that of another party are two very different things, perhaps particularly for the unrepresented IP litigant.
posted by applemeat at 3:35 PM on June 3, 2009

Proof is always an issue in any trial. If you are trying to anticipate a trial think about the things that will make proving up an issue easier. Registration certainly helps here. Printing out copies of your site with the logo and with a date stamp helps. The reason registration works better is that you might lie, the Copyright Office has little reason to lie. That kind of proof is hard for an opponent to refute.

Nevertheless, it would be quite difficult for someone to actually steal your logo and make it their own. The issue in these cases is usually not direct copying. It is more of a logo that is too similar to the existing one. When does that usually occur? When the first one is very successful. We should all have such problems. No one wants to rip off an unsuccessful logo, unless it is unusually unique in which case the protection will be stronger.
posted by caddis at 7:06 PM on June 3, 2009

Does this then mean I could go the Creative Commons route?

Creative Commons is to enable creators and rightsholders to share their works, so it's pretty much the opposite of what you want.
posted by mendel at 7:45 PM on June 3, 2009

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