Copyright is a form of intellectual property protection provided by the laws of the United States. Copyright protection is available for original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible form, whether published or unpublished. The categories of works that can be protected by copyright laws include paintings, literary works, live performances, photographs, movies, and software.

 An Overview of Copyrights

The dictionary defines copyright as “a person’s exclusive right to reproduce, publish, or sell his or her original work of authorship (as a literary, musical, dramatic, artistic, or architectural work).”

It’s important to understand that copyright law covers the “form of material expression,” not the actual concepts, ideas, techniques, or facts in a particular work. This is the reason behind why a work must be fixed in a tangible form in order to receive copyright protection. A couple examples of works being fixed in a tangible form include stories written on paper and original paintings on canvas.

A Copyright Owner’s Rights

The primary goal of copyright law is to protect the time, effort, and creativity of the work’s creator. As such, the Copyright Act gives the copyright owner certain exclusive rights, including the right to:

  • Reproduce the work
  • Prepare “derivative works” (other works based on the original work)
  • Distribute copies of the work by sale, lease, or other transfer of ownership
  • Perform the work publicly
  • Display the work publicly


A trademark is anything that is used or intended to be used, to identify the goods of one manufacturer from the goods of others. It is a brand name. Trademarks are important business tools because they allow companies to establish their product’s reputation without having to worry that an inferior product will diminish their reputation or profit by deceiving the consumer. Trademarks include words, names, symbols and logos. Anything that distinctly identifies your company can be a trademark, provided that it is for goods.

A service mark is very similar to a trademark, except that it is used to distinguish services in the stream of commerce. Like a trademark, a service mark can include words, names, symbols and logos. Typically, trademarks appear on the actual product or its packaging. Service marks appear mostly in advertising for the services. In this education center, when we use the term “trademark,” we generally mean both trademarks and service marks.

The benefits of registering a trademark

Federal registration provides several advantages, including giving you a legal presumption of ownership and exclusive rights to use the mark nationwide in connection with your goods or services. It also gives you the right to bring a federal suit against anyone who may be infringing on your mark, and allows you to use the coveted ® symbol.

What can you trademark?

  • A logo or other symbol or design used to create brand recognition.
  • A name, such as your company’s name or a line of products.
  • A slogan or other phrase used in connection with your brand.

What can’t you trademark?

  • An idea itself can’t be protected, though it may be eligible for a copyright or patent once it’s manifest in tangible form.
  • A creative work such as a book, film, song, or theatrical performance is generally protected by a copyright.
  • An invention, mechanical device, business method, or process is generally protected by a utility patent.

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