Sunday, July 11, 2010

Harmony Central....Difference in a Trademark and a Copyright

From the Harmony Central Newsletter....
Dear Musician,

Since 2006, the NAMM Show has hosted a small booth belonging to the USPTO—the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Unprepossessing and bereft of cool and sexy gear to display, the USPTO booth nevertheless has a constant stream of intensely interested visitors, because it provides a vital service for musicians: information on protecting intellectual property (IP) with regard to patents and trademarks. Many musicians don't know the first thing about IP rights, and can't even articulate the difference between a trademark and a copyright. But you owe it to yourselves as creative types to be aware of all of the traps and snares that await you in the world of IP rights—especially if you live in these litigious United States.

Inventors of musical gear will be more interested in patents and trademarks than in copyrights, which is why the NAMM Show hosts the USPTO. Here at Harmony Central, we've seen an explosion of innovation at NAMM Shows in recent years, including the Spider Capo, the PolyTune polyphonic tuner, and the N-Tune onboard guitar-tuning system, to name just three. Their makers had to become very familiar with patents and trademarks both to protect their inventions and to make sure they weren't inadvertently infringing on previously protected ground. Songwriters, composers, and arrangers, however, will want to focus on copyrights—the other twin pillar of IP rights.

But what's the difference? Can you copyright a song title? Trademark an idea? Here is the essence of each: A copyright protects the way creators express ideas and protects the work itself. And while you can copyright the words and melodies contained within a song, you can't copyright the title, because there's not enough original expression represented. (Witness the countless examples of different songs with the same titles.) But trademarks can, in some cases protect titles, especially if they're part of an established series (think "Harry Potter"), because, according to attorney Lloyd Jassin, a trademark involves the "good will associated with a product" and "protects against confusingly similar usage of source-identifying words or symbols." This is why you couldn't legally launch a website called YouTuber, even if you were a potato farmer trying to show videos of your prize-winning spuds. You're trading on the good will of the popular online video site to suit your own purposes. Trademark law takes a dim view of such practices.

IP is a fascinating topic and well worth researching as you enter into the commerce side of your creative efforts. For more info, go to Jassin's website, the official government copyright site, or check out this collection of articles, with some high-profile cases and humorous parodies on trademark violations (including a fictitious apparel-based case called "North Face vs. South Butt") that help illustrate basic concepts of trademark law.

—Jon Chappell

Bonus :-) from Harmony Central.......

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