Intellectual property comes in many forms. A few most common are trademarks and copyrights. It’s really common for people to get them mixed up.  So let’s dive deep to see the differences and similarities and to answer these questions: What are they? What’s the difference? Are they ever the same?

Occasionally there is an overlap between copyright and trademarks but mostly they’re two very different things.

Copyrights protect original works.

Think of it this way, copyrights apply to works of art and creativity. Things like paintings, book, videos, photos, and sculptures. These are all creative and artistic works and copyrights apply to them. A copyright gives the copyright holder the exclusive right to use, sell or modify the work. You can get more info on copyrights over on the last blog post “ What is a copyright?

Trademarks protect words or symbols that are used to identify the source of a good or service.

Business names, logos, product or service names, and product packaging all would fall under a trademark. Really, anything that helps to define or identify a brand is considered a trademark. A trademark gives the trademark owner exclusive right to use the trademark in connection with its goods or services.

In the context of a business, copyright would apply to photos, videos, and websites, and workbooks, worksheets, and marketing materials.  Trademarks would apply to the name, logo or slogan. Given this, there is a distinct difference between copyrights and trademarks.

Though every once in a while, there will be an overlap with trademarks and copyrights.

Sometimes the same thing can be protected by copyright and a trademark. Think of the “NBC” chime sound, for example. That sound is music, which is an original work of art or creativity, so copyright applies. Though it’s also used as a trademark by NBS. When the general public hears those chimes, we think of NBC.  That sound is used by NBC to tell the general public these are our products, our shows, services, and you’re watching NBC.

(It’s now a good time to mention that sounds, colors, and even smells can be used as trademarks. Have you ever walked into a store and you get an overwhelming smell of ascent? You start to associate that scent with that particular store. A lot of stores have trademarks over scents to put into their store to guide customers to associate that smell with their products and company.)

Logos are another common clash of trademarks and copyrights. Logos often contain a drawing or design that is protected by copyright. As an example, Disney has various trademark registrations of the Mickey Mouse character. If Disney puts a picture of Mickey on a product, we automatically associate the product with Disney. So Mickey is a trademark of Disney in that sense. Disney also has a copyright on the Mickey Mouse character because the character itself of Mickey is a creative work that is also eligible for copyright protection. Since Mickey is a work of art, he’s copyright. Since Disney uses Mickey to indicate their brand, he’s a trademark. This is pretty common with logos for businesses. There will be some creative work in the logo and aside from being a trademark, it will be a copyright as well.

So the simplest way to think about it when comparing is copyrights are art. If it’s something creative or artist, usually copyrights are going to apply. Where trademarks are used by businesses to indicate the source of their products. There may be overlap but overall they are different.