A Look into the © and ® Symbols


You’re surrounded by protected material everywhere you look. While sitting in Starbucks with one of their logo-decorated cups, wearing a University of Texas burnt-orange sweatshirt, singing along to your favorite Taylor Swift lyric and admiring the red sole of a passerby’s Christian Louboutins, you’ve encountered four trademarks and a copyright in a matter of seconds.

When you think about it, it makes sense that all creative things need to be accounted for through either copyright or trademark laws in order to be protected, especially in this highly digital age. But, what is copyrighted versus trademarked?

A copyright protects the creator of their work and their creativity, not allowing anyone to use the book, painting, etc. in other ways without their permission and often a royalty. We encounter this more than we realize; for example, when you listen to songs on your favorite radio station, someone is getting paid for each play.

Recently, there have been many interesting copyrights changes.

Graphic by Jenny Zhu

On the other hand, a trademark protects the things that help identify a company. If you see or hear something and automatically associate that with a business, it’s probably trademarked. Companies with trademarked identifiers, like Nike’s swoosh or Target’s red, can prohibit the use of these by other companies in their industry.

Recently, these trademarking occurrences have made headlines.

Graphic by Jenny Zhu

According to FedEx Office Managing Director of Legal Robert Teutsch, the process of trademarking is much more difficult than that of copyrighting.

Unlike a simple copyright registration, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has to review all of their previous registered trademarks in order to ensure that this new one does not infringe on any existing trademarks. But, you aren’t actually required to go through the process at all in either circumstance. You have ownership rights over the work from the time you’ve created it.

“It’s recommended that if you are going to have a trademark, you go register it, and that kind of gives you some finality and certainty with it,” Teutsch said. “If you don’t register, it doesn’t affect your rights in it, but it’s harder to defend it.”

Copyrighting and trademarking is everywhere, having a big enough presence that an entire industry revolves around it and affecting our lives more than we probably realize. Plus, with the internet, these processes have become more crucial in recent years.

“Copyright law for a long time was just kind of this boring thing that was out there, because it was just music on records and just books and artwork and things like that,” Teutsch said. “The moment everything became digital, it’s one thing to have one CD, it’s another, when that’s digital and with the press of a button I can send it to 10,000 people. It completely changes the world.”