If you’re undertaking a new website design, one of the things to consider is whether you want to have a custom logo designed, or simply use clip art or stock photography for your website. Since one of my clients, Jefferson Coulter, is a trademark attorney in Seattle, I asked him to write an article about this topic.
Here’s an exerpt from Jefferson’s article:
Designers and business owners often wonder about using clip art when designing logos for their or their clients’ business. Should I hire a designer or come up with something on my own? Should I use clip art?
Two things are going on when you create a logo for your business or product. One, you are creating work of authorship that is subject to copyright protection. Two, you are creating a brand (sizzle…mooo! I hope people don’t still brand cows) that designates the origin of the goods or services you are marketing and that distinguishes them from the goods or services of others, a trademark.
Copyrights are about original works of authorship. Trademarks are about marketing.
Copyright infringement (use without permission) is all about originality. If someone is using art that looks identical to yours, that would be ok if it was created independently. For example, two people painted independent images of a frog that just happen to look very similar. As long as its independently created, you are ok. However, if you copy the image, that would be copyright infringement.
Trademarks infringement is all about customer confusion-does a competitor’s use of the same or similar mark trick the public or trade on my goodwill and reputation? With trademarks, it doesn’t matter if its independently created if it causes confusion. All that matters is who used it first and whether it is distinctive. So a trademark protects use of the image in similar industries or for similar goods. A copyright protects the work no matter how it’s used. (This issue only comes up with logos, because they are both works of arts and may serve as a trademark. For “word marks” we’d likely only be dealing with trademark issues.”)
Jefferson goes on to explain that logos can be both copyrighted and trademarked, and he discusses when and why a small business owner is able, or might want to pursue either status. He further explains that clip art is always copyrighted by someone else, and therefore while it may be fine (according to the specific license) to use clip art on your website, he does not recommend using clip art at your small business logo because you can’t copyright it, nor can you prevent anyone else from using it.
Go here to read the whole article “Can I Copyright My Clip Art Logo?”
And many thanks to Jefferson for this excellent article.Jill
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.