What Do Those Trademark and Copyright Symbols Mean and Do I Need Them?

Those trademark and copyright symbols you see - ®, TM, SM, © - sometimes they might as well as read like hieroglyphics. What do they mean and should you be using them? That's the question from Monique, who asks:

I have a slogan that I intend to register as a trademark, but I haven't done so yet. What's the difference between all those symbols - ®, TM, SM, © - and should I use it for my slogan? 

Find out the answer to that question including their proper use and placement in this video:






Introduction to the Trademark Filing Process

Registering your trademark - we often hear it's a must to protect our business and brand.  In this quick video, I'm breaking down the process I walk my clients through in getting their trademarks registered

In this video, we'll cover:

  • What is a Trademark? (0:25)
  • Step 1: Evaluate the Strength of Your Mark (0:51)
  • Step 2: Conduct a Trademark Search (1:35)
  • Step 3: File the Trademark Application (2:37)
  • Step 4: Respond to Follow Up Requests (3:13)




Understanding Copyrights for Your Business

You know the saying – content is king (though I prefer queen!). Whether it’s on your blog or the multitude of available social media platforms, in today’s world, creating, sharing and promoting content are a big part of running a business. Regardless of if you’re creating your own original work or utilizing another’s to get your message out, copyright law is at play. So it’s imperative to have a basic understanding of copyrights. Here are answers to some of your common questions about copyrights:


A copyright is a form of protection for published or unpublished “original works of authorship.” Literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, graphic and audiovisual works are just some of the types of work that can be protected by copyright laws. In contrast, names, titles, slogans, or symbols are not protected by copyrights, rather they may be protected by trademark laws. Also, copyright laws do not protect inventions – those are covered by patent laws.


Your work is afforded copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed to a tangible form. So the moment you paint that watercolor landscape of the South of France or the moment you write your book, your work is protected. To be afforded the rights under copyright law, you are not required to publish the work, include a copyright notice, or register the work with the U.S.


Although the use of a copyright notice is no longer required, it is beneficial and easy enough to include one. A copyright notice informs others that the work is protected under copyright law and indicates the copyright owner and the year of first publication, thereby preventing someone (i.e. an infringer) from claiming that they didn’t know the work was copyrighted. Proper notice includes the copyright symbol (“©”), the year of first publication of the work, and the name of the owner of copyrighted work. For example, © 2015 Jane Doe.


Registration is also not required, but recommended for a number of reasons. First, it creates a public record of your copyright. In the event there is ever a dispute about who owns the copyright, the registration can support your case. Second, U.S. copyrights must be registered before filing a case in court. If you register your copyright within five years of publication, the fact of registration establishes a presumption that the copyright is valid. And finally, if registration is made within three months after publication and prior to an infringement, you may be eligible for additional damages (statutory damages and attorneys’ fees).

Fortunately, registering your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is rather simple and can be done online or with a paper application. You need to complete an application form, pay a filing fee, and submit a nonreturnable copy of the work being registered with the Copyright Office. You can learn more at http://www.copyright.gov.


The answer to this question largely depends on what you hope to accomplish. As a practical matter, if you find that someone is using your copyrighted work without your permission, you or your attorney can contact that individual (i.e. the infringer) to advise them that you are the copyright holder of the work and they are infringing on your copyright. Unfortunately, especially in today’s world where information is shared so freely on the Internet, some people are unaware that they may be infringing on someone’s copyright and that they need to obtain permission before utilizing the work. You can demand that the infringer stop using your work, attribute the work to you or compensate you in exchange for permission to use your work.

Also, if you find your work is being used online without your permission, you can file what’s called a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) take down notice with the online service provider requesting that they remove the infringing materials published on their site.

As the owner of a copyright, you are also entitled to sue in court and ask the court to stop the infringer from utilizing your work, pay you monetary damages and/or attorney fees. In order to sue in court for copyright infringement, your copyright must be registered with the Copyright Office.

If this happens to you, you may want to consult with an attorney to evaluate your options.


It’s a common misconception that linking to the source is enough to protect you from claims of copyright infringement. Giving credit and getting permission are two different things. Linking to the source is not enough because 1) the source you’re linking to may not be the one who owns the copyright and 2) linking does not mean that they have given you permission to use the photo.


  • Create your own original work. The best way to ensure that you are not infringing on someone else’s copyright is to create your own original content.

  • Ask for permission before using someone else’s work: If you know who the copyright owner is, a simple solution may be to just ask for permission from the copyright owner. Some owners may want to be compensated in exchange for using their work, whereas some may forego compensation, so long as the work is properly attributed to them.

  • Use works in the public domain. Work that is not protected under copyright law falls within the public domain, meaning that anyone can use the work without obtaining permission from the author or their heirs.

  • Search the Creative Commons website: Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that encourages the sharing and use of works through easy-to-use copyright licenses. The site enables copyright owners to give the public permission to share their creative work under certain specified conditions.

  • Pay for Licenses: If you really want to use a specific copyrighted work, you may just have to pay for the license to do so. There are plenty of websites where you can purchase rather affordable licenses to utilize another’s copyrighted content, like stock photographs, for example.

This post was originally written for B is for Bonnie Design.



How to Find Free Photos and Content for Your Blog

When I teach about copyrights, I always introduce the Creative Commons website to my students as a potential resource for stock content such as photography, video and audio.  If you're unfamiliar with Creative Commons, it's a non-profit organization that encourages the sharing and use of works through easy-to-use copyright licenses. The site enables copyright owners to give the public permission to share their creative work under certain specified conditions. That's why it is such a wonderful resource.


I want to show you how easy it is to find stock content on the Creative Commons website.  Let's say you're writing a blog post about San Francisco and you want to find a few images to include in your post.  

After logging into the Creative Commons website, you'll find the search box to the middle left of the page [see section highlighted in yellow] that says "Find CC material".  There, you'll enter the search terms for what you are looking for - for example, "Picture of san Francisco."

When you hit enter, you'll be taken to a second page, where you'll be given the option of selecting the search engine.  Underneath the search terms you're also given the option of searching for things you can "use for commercial purposes" and/or "modify, adapt or build upon."  In this example, we've selected both options and have decided to search using Google Images. 

Once you hit enter, you'll be directed to a variety of search options. Let's say you want to use the picture of the Golden Gate Bridge highlighted in the upper left corner in the image below.

Once you click on the image you want, you will be taken to a page where you can learn more about the author of ht work and the licensing rights associated with the use of this picture.  Here, we see that the copyright owner (Paul H.) has released this image into the public domain.  When a work is in the public domain, it means that it can be utilized without getting permission from the copyright owner.  It further states that the author "grants anyone the right to sue this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law."

So there you have it. One easy way to find free content for you to use. Just make sure that if you do use the work, that you also comply with any and all licensing requirements as provided.

TELL ME: Do you have any cost-effective (and legal) resources for finding content to use for your business? Leave your tips in the comments below.




Understanding Copyrights & Trademarks

I see a lot of confusion amongst creative business owners about the differences between copyrights and trademarks.  Sometimes people use these terms interchangeably, however they are their own distinct set of laws and apply to different types of works. Here is a quick primer on the differences between copyrights and trademarks.


What is the purpose of a copyright? A copyright is a form of protection given to the author of published or unpublished “original works of authorship.”  The copyright gives the owner of a creative work the right to keep others from the unauthorized use of the work.

What kinds of work does copyright law protect? Literary, musical, dramatic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural and audiovisual works are just some of the types of work that can be protected by copyright laws.  Copyright law also protects pantomimes and choreographic works, sound recordings, architectural works, and motion pictures. Copyright does not protect ideas or facts (like standard measurements, calendars, lists or tables), rather it protects the way in which those facts or ideas are expressed.

For example, let’s say you have the idea of design a graphic of the map of the United States.  Your actual expression of that – the graphic of the map can be protected by copyright, however a copyright will not prevent others from using the underlying idea of creating graphics of a map of the United States.

How do you get a copyright? A copyright is created the moment the work this fixed to a tangible form.  In other words, the moment you put pen to paper, a paintbrush to the canvas, or take a picture with your camera, the work is protected by copyright.   Technically, you do not need to publish a work, include a copyright notice on the work, or register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office to be afforded the protection under the copyright laws.  There are, however, advantages for doing so. First it puts others on notice that the work is protected by copyright, so they can’t utilize the work and claim that they didn’t know that the work was under copyright protection. Also having a copyright registered with the U.S. Copyright Office is a prerequisite for filing a claim for infringement in court.

How long does copyright protection last? Copyright protection lasts for the life of the work’s creator +70 years. If the creator is a business, then copyright protection lasts between 95-120 years.

To learn more visit the U.S. Copyright Office's Website.


What is the purpose of a trademark? The purpose of trademark is to prevent customer confusion about products in the marketplace. It is also designed to prevent dilution of the goodwill of a brand.

What kinds of work does trademark protect? Trademarks protect the expression used to identify and distinguish a product or service in the marketplace, such as names, logos, slogans, and other commercial signifiers.  Under the concept of trade dress, the law can also protect things like distinctive product shapes, packaging, or store décor, so long as they don’t have a functional purpose.

In order to acquire trademark protection,  your mark must be distinctive (unique enough that customers recognize it on its own) or have secondary meaning (customers recognize the through its continued use over time). 

How do you get a trademark? Trademark ownership is actually determined by who first uses the mark in a commercial context.  By registering a trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office you have other benefits: in the event you ever want to sue another for trademark infringement, it creates a presumption that you were the first to use the mark in commerce and that the later user deliberately copied the mark.  First use can also be established by filing what’s called an intent to use trademark registration application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

How long does trademark protection last? Trademarks will expire by law after 10 years unless the owner files an Application for Renewal before the end of the tenth year following the date of registration. A trademark can renewed for 10-year periods for an unlimited number of times.

On a side note, patent law is what protects the use and development of an invention. To learn more about trademarks and patents, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Website.