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Copyright vs Trademark: What’s the Difference? (2020 Update)

Copyright vs Trademark: What’s the Difference? (2020 Update)

Trademark and copyright protection are both useful ways of protecting your business's intellectual property. Find out how they're different here.

6th April 2020
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Your business’s intellectual property (IP) is one of the most valuable assets you’ll have. When your brand becomes well-known and loved by your customers, your IP will be the first thing that will resonate with them. When it comes to intellectual property, you can protect it as a trademark or have it protected under copyright. However, trademarks are different to copyright, most notably because copyright attaches automatically but trademarks have to be applied for. At the same time, trademarks and copyright apply to different types of intellectual property. In this guide, we’ll discuss the difference between trademarks and copyright, so you’ll know how to protect your business’s assets.

Copyright and trademark are two entirely different types of intellectual property that have a similar purpose. However, no matter how you intend to protect your intellectual property, you’ll want to start taking these steps early on.

What Is Copyright?

Copyright is a right that provides protection to a person who creates a particular work. These works can include text, artistic works, sound recordings, films, and computer programs. Essentially, this is to stop other people from copying, reproducing or communicating the work without the copyright owner’s permission and applies for 70 years after the creator’s death. Only the copyright owner is granted exclusive rights to reproduce the material, unless they sell their rights to someone else. However, there are limitations.

Copyright only protects the original expression of ideas and not the actual ideas themselves. For example, copyright is unlikely to protect the style or overall look of a magazine. Therefore, in order for copyright to subsist, the work must be original and have a connection with Australian law. A good example of where you might have copyright material is on your website. If you have a blog or have made a video promoting your business, it will be protected by copyright. 

For more information on copyright and what it does and does not protect, you can check out our guide on ‘What Is Implied Copyright?: A Guide For Business Owners’.

Who Is The Copyright Owner?

In Australia, there are two types of copyright. First, copyright in literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. Second, copyright in other subject matter, such as sound recordings, etc. As a general rule, the first owner of copyright can decide to assign copyright or allow others to share, reuse or remix their material. If someone is copying your work, you can bring forth an action for infringement.

What Is A Trademark?

Trademarks are an effective way to promote your brand and protect your products and services. Generally, trademarks are signs that operate as a distinctive mark. They enable consumers to identify goods and services between one owner from other competitors. The term ‘sign’ is broad and includes letters, words, names, signatures, devices, brands, headings, labels, tickets, packaging, shapes, colours, sounds, and/or scents. Basically, anything which covers the surface of a product, such as the shape of a container, may operate as a trademark.

Two iconic trademarks include the Cadbury shade of purple and Coca-Cola’s elaborate Spencerian script logo. Therefore, if your business is launching a unique product or service with a form of branding, then it is recommended you register a trademark. When applying for a trademark, you need to be careful which class you choose to register in. The class of your trademark should be the industry or category your business operates in. For more information on trademark registration, you can read our guide on ‘How To Register A Trademark’.

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What Is The Difference?

Trademark and copyright protection are distinct forms of legal IP protection. This means that they follow different processes and the duration of protection will be different.

Registration Of Trademarks

For your trademark to be enforceable, you must first register it. However, you can only register your trademark if it satisfies the following:

  1. If the “sign” is capable of distinguishing the goods or services of the owner from those of other traders; and
  2. If it meets other requirements for registration.

Once a trademark is formally registered, you will have proprietary protection and the exclusive right to use, sell and licence your trademark.. There are also numerous benefits to registering a trademark. Not only will your goods and services stand out from your competitors, but the unique features of your registered trademark will be protected throughout Australia for period of 10 years. 

Applying for a trademark can be a time-consuming and complicated process, particularly if it your first time. At Lawpath we make registering a trademark quick and easy, offering fixed fee quotes with a fast turn around.

How Long Does Copyright Last For?

Unlike trademarks, you do not need to register copyright because protection is given automatically. But copyright does not last forever. Under the Act, copyright in works created since January 2005 typically exist throughout the creator’s lifetime plus 70 years after the death of the creator. the end of the year in which the creator dies. But there are some exceptions depending on what type of work it is:

  • Sound recordings and films continue for a 70-year period after the expiration of the year in which publication first occurs.
  • Television broadcasts and sound broadcasts continue for 50 years after the expiration of the year in which publication first occurs.
  • Published editions of works copyright continues for 25 years after the expiry of the year in which the edition was first published.


As seen above, the main difference between a trademark and copyright is that generally, copyright leans toward protecting works such as books, whereas trademarks protect your business’s brand.. Finally, whether an owner is required to register their work is another distinguishing factor, as well as the length of time the protection will exist. Despite the differences, both forms of intellectual property are extremely important for businesses. Therefore, business owners should understand and familiarise themselves with the benefits of obtaining copyright or trademark protection.

Don’t know where to start? Contact us on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest lawyer marketplace.

Fiona Lu

Fiona is a Paralegal working in our content team which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With an interest in information, media, consumer and employment law, her primary focus is on how technology will affect the future of the legal industry.