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What Do Copyright, Trademark Symbols Mean?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

You see copyright and trademark symbols everywhere, but what exactly do they mean? Generally speaking, they put a stamp on your ownership.

Each of these symbols provides notice to the world that you are claiming legal rights in the mark or work. A few may require you to actually register your mark or work with the government.

Here's an overview of what each of these symbols mean:

  1. Copyright: ©. When you write a "C" with a circle around the letter, or use the word "copyright," you are giving notice to the public that the work is copyrighted and that you are the owner of the work. Next to the symbol, owners should include the year of first publication and the owner's full name. Inclusion of a "©" is no longer required to protect your work -- it's automatically protected when the work is created. But it's still a good idea to include it in order to fend off claims of innocent infringement (i.e., infringement that occurs when the infringer didn't know that the work was copyrighted). You don't need to get permission from, or register with, the Copyright Office to use the copyright notice.
  2. Unregistered trademark: ™ and SM. You may use the ™ on marks identifying tangible goods, and the SM on marks identifying services. Both of these symbols are used to give potential infringers notice that a term, slogan, logo, or other indicator is being claimed as a trademark. They are used for unregistered trademarks. However, including ™ or SM doesn't guarantee that the owner's mark will be protected under trademark laws.
  3. Registered trademark: ®. The ® symbol provides "statutory notice." It can only be used if your trademark is federally registered on either the Principal or Supplemental Registers maintained by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Use of ® with any unregistered trademark can lead to claims of fraud or other obstacles in obtaining and/or enforcing trademark rights.

For extra help on how to copyright or trademark your work, logos, or services, consult an experienced intellectual property lawyer in your area.

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