Trademark vs. Copyright: What’s the Difference?

Trademark vs. copyright: In 350 words or less, and in plain English…what’s the difference?



U.S. Trademark law protects the name or symbol that you use to identify your brand. It affords you protection in connection with your goods or your services or those that might be confusingly similar. (Think: the Nike swoosh symbol in connection with athletic apparel, or the word FACEBOOK in connection with social media.) A trademark’s ultimate function is to protect the consumer. The consumer sees your trademark on packaging and makes an immediate association between that mark and the quality of your product. The law exists to prevent consumer confusion. If another person or company were able to use a mark confusingly similar to yours in connection with confusingly similar goods or services, the consumer would be confused. A confused consumer is unable to make that association of quality.


Copyright law offers protection in connection with your creative works. (Think: music, paintings, plays, motion pictures, sculpture, photographs, novels, software, architectural works, etc.) The function of copyright law is to give you legal protection in connection with your creative work for a certain amount of time. (Remember, “certain amount of time” caveat is important — U.S. Copyright Law stems from the Constitution, which says to promote the progress of science and the useful arts for a limited time.) Lawyers often refer to copyright as a “bundle of rights.” That bundle gives the owner the exclusive right to reproduce, prepare derivative works based upon, sell, perform, or distribute copies of the work.

Though the two are very different, both copyright and trademark do have something in common. They are largely governed by federal law (the Copyright Act of 1976 and the Lanham Act, respectively).  Now you know the difference between copyright and trademark in a nutshell.

The Point: When you think about “Trademark vs. Copyright,” think “Branding vs. Creative Works.”

What’s next? Click here to download your [free] Essential Legal Checklist from Spear IP.

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