How to Find Copyrighted or Trademark Phrases

By Anna Assad

Before using a specific phrase in your own work or for profit, it is important to check whether your choice of phrase is copyrighted or trademarked. You might face a civil lawsuit if you use a copyrighted or trademarked phrase without the owner's permission. A copyright grants legal protection to an artist's work and a trademark protects a phrase, a word, a symbol, a design or a combination of those elements that the public identifies with a specific person, business or organization. For example, a business slogan would be trademarked, but a distinct phrase that is part of a literary work would be copyrighted. Registration of a copyright or trademark allows the owner to take legal action against unauthorized use. Copyrighted phrases are usually registered with the United States Copyright Office, and trademarked phrases are registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Trademark

Step 1

Go to the Trademark Electronic Search System at the official website of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Use the "Basic Word Mark Search (New User)" search. Enter the phrase into the "Search Term" field; leave the default search options set for a basic search. The default search options are "Combined Word Mark" with "All Search Terms (AND)." These settings will return results containing all the words in the phrase and search word variations. View results to see trademarked phrases.

Step 2

Widen the search and search again if you're not sure of the exact phrase. Change the "Results Must Contain" search option to "Any Search Terms (OR)." This will return results that contain parts of the phrase you are searching for.

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Step 3

Click the "Logout" button beneath the search fields when finished.

Copyright

Step 1

Go to the official website of the United States Copyright Office to use its online "Public Catalog Search" for works copyrighted after 1978. Use the "Keyword" search field for phrases in copyright records. Surround the phrase with double quotation marks to search for the precise phrase.

Step 2

Check the results for the phrase you want. Results are shown by the title of the works that contain the phrase, and are arranged alphabetically.

Step 3

Search again using the "Keyword" search if the exact phrase you are looking for doesn't appear in the results. Use some distinctive words from the phrase. For example, if searching, "The brown shoehorn," omit the words "the" and "brown." "Shoehorn" is the less common word. Put a "+" in front of each search word to narrow the search.

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How to Check If Something Has a Copyright on It

References

Resources

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How to Identify a Copyright

Identifying items that are copyrighted can help you avoid committing copyright infringement, and locating the owner of a copyright is vital if you would like to purchase a license enabling you to use a copyrighted item. The U.S. Copyright Office provides a list of registered copyrighted items and is an excellent starting point for locating copyright owners. However, an owner does not have to register copyrights to own the rights to its item, so it's vital to look for other clues that an item might be copyrighted.

Are Company Slogans Copyrighted?

Federal copyright law grants exclusive rights to the use of “original works of authorship,” whether or not they are published. Copyright law protects a broad range of works, including books, poems, songs, paintings and even computer programs. However, copyright law normally does not protect short phrases, such as a company slogan. Trademark law, on the other hand, specifically protects slogans that companies use to identify themselves as the maker of a product.

How Close Can a Logo Be & Not Be a Copyright Infringement?

Federal copyright law protects original works of art and design used commercially, such as logos. If the copyright is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, anyone who violates the copyright by using it without permission can be subject to a lawsuit, as well as fines and damages. There are several conditions that determine whether a new but similar design violates a copyrighted logo.

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