Copyright is known to protect original works such as literary, dramatic, musical, artistic and other intellectual works. When a person creates original work, it is automatically copyrighted at the time of its creation. Copyright gives one an exclusive right to do or authorise another person to use, reproduce and distribute copies, perform or communicate in public, certain kinds of creative works. Copyright lasts, on average, 50 years after the death of its author for most creative works.
For a work to enjoy copyright protection, the creation must be both original and tangible. A simple idea in someone’s mind is not sufficient to give protection under copyright, as the idea must be expressed in a physical form.
In contrast, trademark is a mark, when used in trade, capable of being represented graphically, and which distinguishes the goods and services of one person from that of another. The coverage of a trademark is broader than copyright, as a name, symbol, word, sign, shape of a product, colour, sound or smell can be protected under trademark law.
The main requirement for a mark to be protected is to be distinctive and not generic in relation to the business for which it is used.
However, the question here is to know if brand logos can be protected under copyright or trademark. Logos are a complex matter, and the simple answer is that they can be protected both under trademark and copyright law.
In order for a logo to have copyright protection, it requires a sufficient level of creativity. As copyright cannot protect words, colours or simple logo designs, most simple logos do not have the required level of creativity and originality to be copyrightable.
Nevertheless, some artistic logos can qualify for copyright protection if it is considered as a piece of artwork, and separate from its use as a corporate identifier. In such cases, those logos can and are enforced using both trademark and copyright.
As an example, in the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) gives the opportunity for copyright holders to enforce their right and send notices to remove any content containing copyrighted works from websites or social media pages. However, as there may be some confusion between copyright and trademark protection for logos, companies must be careful when relying on the provisions of the DMCA.
In the case CrossFit, Inc. v. Alvies, No. 13-3771, 2014 WL 251760 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 22, 2014), the Defendant, Jenni Alvies, launched a blog and created a Facebook page called “CrossFit Mamas”, where she posted exercise routines. The fact that Alvies used the term “CrossFit” came to the attention of the company CrossFit Inc. In order to stop Alvies using this name, the company sent a takedown notice to Facebook pursuant to the DMCA, requesting a takedown of her Facebook page. Later, CrossFit Inc. sued Alvies for trademark infringement, but Alvies counterclaimed, arguing that the company violated paragraph 512(f) of the DMCA. This provision provides that:
“Any person who knowingly materially misrepresents under [17 U.S.C. § 512] that material or activity is infringing (…) shall be liable for any damages, including costs and attorneys’ fees, incurred by the alleged infringer (…) who is injured by such misrepresentation, as the result of the service provider relying upon such misrepresentation in removing or disabling access to the material or activity claimed to be infringing.”
In other words, this section held that any person who sends a notice of claimed infringement with knowledge that such claims are false might be liable for damages. In the CrossFit case, the company sent the DMCA takedown notice asserting infringement of its trademark rights rather than its copyright. The Court held that Alvies suffered damage when the content was removed via an improper DMCA takedown notice and agreed that such notice, used for a trademark matter, may violate paragraph 512(f).
The conclusion here is that a DMCA takedown notice, whether used for shutting down websites or social media pages, should be used carefully and only to address copyright violations. As many logos do not have the level of creativity required to be copyrightable, brand owners cannot rely on the DMCA provisions if a person only uses a company’s name logo without authorisation.
The use of a company’s logo by a third party, however, gives legal protection under trademark law and brand owners can enforce those trademark rights. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, also have specific procedures to report trademark infringements. Ideally, the best strategy for companies is to seek protection of their unique brand logos under both laws and obtain trademark rights as well as copyrights.
Author – Caroline Valle