Logo copyright infringement: Here’s what you need to know
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Logo copyright infringement: Here’s what you need to know

Logo Copyright Infringement

Designers are constantly seeing inspiration wherever they go. 

Here at Fabrik, we’re always getting new ideas for concepts, just by interacting with people or seeing the many different shapes and components of the world around us. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to logo design, it’s important to know when it’s safe to act on inspiration. 

In a world that’s cluttered with millions of companies, and new startups opening their door each day, how do you know that the inspiration taken to create your logo is safe?

Intellectual property rights can be very difficult to follow, but to help you get started on the right track, we’re going to introduce you to the basics of logo copyright infringement.

Logo Copyright Infringement

What counts as copyright infringement?

Intellectual property rights, such as trademarks and copyrights, can deliver both positive and negative opportunities to business owners. On one hand, getting copyright or trademark protection for your business logo means that no-one else can use it. 

This ensures that you can defend one of the crucial assets that make your business stand out

However, in the same vein, logo copyright guidelines also mean that you can get into trouble if your designs are too similar in style to something else that exists in the marketplace. 

Anything original created by an artist or company can become something called “intellectual property”. 

The US laws dictate that when you design a logo, create a new product, or even paint a picture, you own intellectual property. To some extent, your intellectual property is immediately protected by IP law. 

However, legal protections come in many different forms, including:

  • Patents: Used to defend inventions and innovations.
  • Copyright: Used to protect literary and artistic works.
  • Trademarks: Intended to distinguish the goods of a specific company.

In the US, every designer or business automatically owns the copyright to their own work. You don’t necessarily have to register for a copyright with the US patent and trademark office. 

However, registering your copyright, or applying for a trademark can give you more peace of mind. This ensures that if someone else uses your image, you can take them to court. 

Logo copyright infringement happens when you use a critical component of a trademark (like the shape or color of a logo) in your design, without getting permission first.

Logo Copyright Infringement

What is fair use in logo copyright infringement cases?

Since there are millions of companies out there, and only a handful of shapes and designs to use in any standard logo, there is some flexibility in copyright law. 

The fair use doctrine refers to the exception in the Copyright Act that makes it legal to use copyrighted works without obtaining the permission of the author. 

For instance, you can reference copyrighted works in a college paper without having to pay for permission to use them. Additionally, if you’re reporting the news and you need to reference a piece of copyrighted work, that’s okay too. 

There’s also something to be said for inspiration in logo copyright infringement examples. 

If you’re inspired by the way that another brand uses colors and shapes in their logo, you wouldn’t get into trouble if you interpreted the crux of that idea differently in your own design. 

The key to success is making sure that you don’t just imitate what’s already there – you transform it into something new. 

Unfortunately, it’s very easy for something that started off as basic inspiration to transform into something problematic. 

For instance, if you think that someone would see your logo and instantly know where you got your inspiration, you’ve probably infringed on a copyright. 

One option in this case could be to request formal permission to use that copyrighted component. 

If, for example, you like the style of a certain typography in your logo and you want to create your own version of it, you can reach out to the company and ask for their permission to use their design as inspiration. They may not grant that permission, of course. 

In the same way, if you apply for a trademark or copyright on your logo, then you could prevent other people from using something that you consider to be “too similar” to your design.

Logo Copyright Infringement

Examples of logo copyright infringement cases

If you’re still uncertain about whether certain components of a logo protected by copyright are available to use, it might be helpful to check out some previous cases. 

For instance, in China, the 3M company brought a lawsuit against the Changzhou Huawei advanced material company. The business was using a version of the “3M” logo that included an N instead of an M. 

Although the mark was slightly different, the company had managed to acquire market share and clients simply because the logo was similar to that of 3M

A similar case took place for logo copyright infringement in South Korea. A chicken restaurant located in South Korea lost a legal battle with the apparel company Louis Vuitton. 

The court ruled in the favor of the design brand after dictating that the name of the restaurant, Louis Vuiton Dak, was too close in sound and style to Louis Vuitton. Additionally, the packaging and restaurant logo were very similar in style to the iconic imagery of the Louis Vuitton brand. 

Not only was the company in this case asked to stop using the logo and name that it had been building its image with, but it was hit with a fine for $14.5 million after it refused to change its appearance. 

Elsewhere, in India, the parent company of the American Eagle brand, Retail Royalty Company, filed in high court against the fashion and retail business, Pantaloons. The lawsuit claimed that the brand logo of the Pantaloons company was too similar to American Eagle’s iconic image. 

The verdict in that case took longer to establish, as the argument came from an American company. In some cases, copyrights and trademarks are only applied in the countries where companies originally set up their organizations.

Avoiding logo copyright infringement issues

There are clearly a lot of circumstances wherein the use of a logo that’s too similar in design or style to something else on the market can lead to significant problems for a business. 

The severity of any logo copyright infringement cases is often dependent on many things, including the nature of the copyrighted work, and the amount of copyrighted information used in the new design. 

If your new logo used a similar color to another company, for instance, but the rest of the components of that logo were different, you may not be hit with a logo copyright notice. 

The unfortunate truth, however, is that it’s difficult to know for certain whether you’re going to be held accountable for a copyright infringement issue or not. 

In most cases of copyright infringement shared by legal companies online, the issues could have been easily avoided. All you really need to do to protect yourself is make sure that you do your research. 

The answer to “How do I know if a logo is copyrighted” is to start by checking online. There are lots of tools available on the web that can help you to search for logos and determine which ones have trademark protection. 

There are also logo design experts that can do your due diligence for you.

Logo Copyright Infringement

Can you use a logo without permission?

Some companies assume that just because they’ve changed a few things about a popular logo, or their business is located in a different place to the original company, they don’t have to worry about copyright. Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. 

Even if you do get away with using another company’s design for a little while, there will eventually be a moment when you’re found out. 

Knowing who owns the rights to a design and how it can be used is essential. If you’re not sure whether an element of your logo is fair use or not, then it’s best to play it safe and avoid the design completely. 

You can even consider speaking to a lawyer if you’re concerned or conducting an in-depth search if you really want to use the logo.

In the meantime, if you want to simplify the process of getting an amazing logo, reach out to Fabrik today.

Fabrik Brands: A creative agency for our times.

Steve Harvey
Steve Harvey
Our co-founder, Steve Harvey, is also a regular contributor to Brand Fabrik, a flagship publication covering topics relevant to anyone in branding, marketing and graphic design. Steve shares his enthusiasm for brand naming through his articles and demonstrates his knowledge and expertise in the naming process.

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