The following does not constitute legal advice and is meant only to provide education and resources. If you have specific questions regarding copyright, trademark or licensing in Montana, please seek private counsel.
As producers you may wonder if you need to copyright or trademark your products, branding or logos. Here’s the good news: you already own any original work you create. Copyright and trademark exist to protect an artist’s original work and gives the artists authority to allow others to use or reproduce their work.
Your best resource? Check https://www.uspto.gov/ for basic insight into the Federal process.
In addition, Montana residents have access to a host of unique resources and assistance in their state. Learn more here.
Let’s break it down:
“Copyright is an exclusive legal right, given to an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same.” – Mirriam-Webster Dictionary.
In basic terms, copyright is what happens when you make something original. You fully own your product, retain the ability to reproduce it and have the authority to allow others to reproduce it through licensing.
You don’t have to register for copyright. Copyright exists from the moment the original work is created. However you do have the option to register your copyright, and must if you wish to bring a lawsuit or infringement of a U.S. work.
Learn more here: https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html
“A trademark is generally a word, phrase, symbol, design or combination thereof that identifies and distinguishes the source of the good of one party from those of another. A service mark is the same as a trademark, except that it identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than goods.” – USPTO
In general terms, a trademark protects brand names and logos used on goods and services. Registering your brand name or logo as a trademark is a way to provide documentation in any legal circumstance.
Learn more here: https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/BasicFacts.pdf
A patent for an invention is the grant of a property right to the inventor, issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In its most basic terms, a patent is used to protect an invention.
The rights given by a patent grant is written in the language of the statute and the grant itself, “the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling” the invention in the United States or “importing” the invention into the united states.
What is granted is not the right to make, use, offer for sale, sell or import, but the right to exclude others from doing these things. Once a patent is issued, the patentee must enforce the patent without aid of the USPTO.
Learn more here: https://www.uspto.gov/patents-getting-started/general-information-concerning-patents#heading-2
Reproduction is a whole different story. First of all, the original creator owns all rights to reproduction because of inherent copyright. However, they may license their intellectual property to certain individuals, businesses or groups for a fee or royalties.
For example, in Montana we love our college football teams. But individuals are not allowed to reproduce Griz or Cat logos, marks, mascots, or words without permission from the original creators – in this case the schools themselves.
If you’d like to work on a licensing agreement to license your own work, we encourage you to seek private counsel.
For information on working with Montana universities, see below. (If you are interested in selling gear inspired by your local high school sports teams, consult the specific school or organization for licensing, and consult an attorney.
MSU Licensing: https://www.montana.edu/policy/trademark_licensing/index.html
UM Licensing: http://www.umt.edu/licensing/
5. A note on the Craft Act
The Indian Arts and Crafts Act (Act) of 1990 (P.L. 101-644) is a truth-in-advertising law that prohibits misrepresentation in the marketing of Indian arts and crafts products within the United States. It is illegal to offer or display for sale, or sell any art or craft product in a manner that falsely suggests it is Indian produced, an Indian product, or the product of a particular Indian or Indian tribe or Indian arts and crafts organization, resident within the United States.
Learn more here: https://www.doi.gov/iacb/act