What is the difference between a copyright or a trademark?

UPDATED: Apr 2, 2012

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What is the difference between a copyright or a trademark?

I came up with a sentence that cleverly conveys the oddity of an obsession the public has. I think T-shirts with this sentence would sell really well but I want to protect my idea. Should I file for a copyright or a trademark? Note: I don’t own my own T-shirt business, so the sentence is not connected with a specific product.

Asked on April 2, 2012 under Business Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Copyright protects a specific orginal expression, including a written work. Copyright inures, or comes into being, as soon as you create the expression; technically, you do not have to register it to protect it, though registration enhances the protection substantially. If the slogan or sentence is not as original as you think, however, it may not be copyrighted--copyright only protects original expressions.

Most importantly therefore, you cannot generally copyright something as short as a single sentence or slogan--they are so short as to by law not present the requisite originality, since short sentence or phrases are almost certainly in use and/or previously created by others.

Trademark protects a slogan, design, name, etc. which is used to identify goods or services. You cannot trademark something which is not associated with goods or services, and you can only trademark something actually being used in commerce, or which will be used in commerce in the near future.

Therefore, from what you write, it is very likely that neither copyright nor trademark protection is available to you, though you could call the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to get guidance from them--they handle copyright as well. Try calling 800-786-9199.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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