How to Copyright Product Symbols & Text

by Victoria McGrath
Copyrights cover various kinds of written works, including marketing materials, as literary work.

Copyrights cover various kinds of written works, including marketing materials, as literary work.

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Copyrights do not generally cover symbols and text used on products, because they do not often qualify as original creative work. In some cases, however, copyrights apply to symbols represented as graphic art work or text presented as literary work. The United States Copyright Office considers copyrights in seven broad categories, which include literary works, dramatic works, choreographed works, musical works, motion pictures, pictorial, graphic and sculptural works, and also architectural works. Symbols and text used on products potentially qualify as trademark logos and slogans. Trademarks apply to original marks that are used to identify company products offered in the market place.

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Copyright Protection

Copyrights specifically cover original creative work, such as literary works, visual arts and sound recordings. The author of original creative works automatically secures a common law copyright in his work, once he has created it and fixed it in a tangible form. However, it is also advisable to seek copyright protection from the U.S. Copyright Office. Copyrights protect creative products, such as books, records, motion pictures, paintings, drawings and sculptures. In addition, symbols that are used on products potentially qualify for copyright protection as pictorial or graphic work, under visual arts work. The text used on products potentially qualifies as literary work, beyond disjointed words, phrases, lists or slogans. Both the symbols and the text used on products must qualify as original creative work to qualify for copyright protection.

What Copyrights Do Not Cover

Copyrights, however, do not protect single words, phrases, text, signs or symbols unless they exist within an original creative work -- such as a poem, painting or graphic design. The titles of the original creative works are not eligible for copyrights. Mere ideas, basic concepts, scientific facts and lists of ingredients lack the necessary creative expression for copyright protection. Although generic symbols and text do not qualify as copyrights, they potentially qualify as trademarks. Trademarks include original words, text, signs and symbols used on products offered in the marketplace. Unique symbols and text,which identify and distinguish a company's products from its competitors products in the industry, qualify as trademarks.

Federal Copyright Registration

If the product symbols and product text stand alone as original creative works of art, they automatically qualify for copyright protection once they are fixed in a physical form. The best way to ensure exclusive copyright in symbols and text is to apply for federal copyright registration through the United States Copyright Office. The United States Copyright Office processes federal copyright registration applications online and by mail. Online applicants apply through the electronic Copyright Office and use form CO. Applicants who prefer to apply by mail use form TX for literary works or form VA for visual art works.

Deposit Requirements

The copyright holder can register the product symbols as pictorial or graphic work and the text as literary work in a complete narrative form. Each registration application requires a signed application, registration filing fees and a deposit of a copy of the original creative work. The symbols, as pictorial or graphic work, must meet the visual art work deposit requirements. The work sample must include a complete copy of the symbols, in the best edition available, produced on high-quality archival paper. Product symbols and text captured in marketing materials, catalogs, video presentations, newsletters or webpages may also qualify for copyright protection as visual art work.