Do I Need Permission to Use a Logo in my Blog?
DO I NEED PERMISSION TO USE A LOGO IN MY BLOG?
You’re writing an article about your favorite cereal – the origin of the flake shape, the ingeniousness of the ingredients, the history of the brand name – and to fancy up the copy, you decide to include the company’s logo.
But then, you wonder: Is this permitted?
Are Logos Copyright-Protected?
The answer isn’t cut-and-dried: Some are; some aren’t. Sometimes a logo may be copyrighted. Or it may be trademarked.
What’s the difference, you ask?
Both actions are taken to protect intellectual property. But legally they are very distinct. In general terms, copyrights (©) apply to intellectual or creative works, while trademarks (™) protect commercial names, logos, and phrases.
In general terms, copyright gives exclusive rights to the owner of a literary, artistic, educational, or musical work.
Trademarks, on the other hand, are used to help companies represent their unique brand.
Corporate logos, therefore, are typically trademarked. This provides the company some amount of protection against someone trying to pass off a product represented by their logo.
But many corporations also opt to copyright their logos for additional legal identity protection because copyright law and trademark law each have some gaps.
According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, “A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.”
A completely different office, the United States Copyright Office, handles copyright issues. They explain, “Copyright commonly does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. You will have to look into trademarking. Copyright protects works of original authorship such as text, artwork, photographs, sound recordings, screenplays, music, lyrics, etc.”
Are All Logos Protected?
Regardless of whether a logo has been registered or not, the creator still has certain protections.
Graphic designer, Stephanie Asmus, points out that a logo doesn’t actually need to be copyrighted or trademarked to be protected: “The moment a logo is created, so long as it’s justifiably original, the owner has protectable rights to that creation under what’s called ‘common law’.”
This means that even if a logo has not been registered to an “owner,” it can’t be usurped for use by another entity. Common law provides legal protection to guarantee that the “owner” is the sole entity permitted to use the logo as an identifier in their industry.
What really matters is protecting the integrity of the graphic.
As Elizabeth Potts Weinsten, founder and lead attorney at EPW Small Business Law PC, puts it, “Trademarks are designed to protect customers from confusion… If you use the logos in a way that won’t confuse customers or the public, then you probably are not infringing the trademark.”
So… Am I Free to Include the Logo?
According to upcounsel, “You need permission to use a logo unless it is for editorial or information purposes, such as when a logo is used in a written article or being used as part of a comparative product statement.”
This type of use is called fair use. Basically, as long as your intent is not to profit from the logo, you should be able to replicate it to accompany your article.
So, this is great news for, say, bloggers just wanting to spruce up the page with a splash of color.
But there’s a caveat.
Keep in mind that the company likely toiled long and hard to come up with the image that graphically represents their brand. As such, they might have very strict usage guidelines – from the exact colors that must be used and whether it can be recreated in black and white to size restrictions and any accompanying tagline or words to even the required white space around the image.
As a general rule of thumb, don’t make any changes to their image.
Your best bet is to check with the company’s website or media relations department to find out what their specific brand usage guidelines are and how they relate to using their logo.
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