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Do you copyright or trademark a band name?

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I’m in a band, and we want to know for our band name and our music: What is the technical difference between a copyright and a trademark, and which should we use?


A look at trademarks

Let’s start with: What exactly is a trademark? According to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO):

A trademark includes any word, name, symbol, or device, or any combination, used, or intended to be used, in commerce to identify and distinguish the goods of one manufacturer or seller from goods manufactured or sold by others, and to indicate the source of the goods.

Boiled down: Your band’s name is your brand name — and therefore can be registered as a trademark.

How to apply for a trademark online

First, you might want to get help from an attorney to make sure you’re filing correctly. You need to be sure you’ve done a thorough search for other trademarks that might be identical or similar, and you also need to know how to describe what the TM will cover, and the classes you want to apply for.

TEAS is the official online registry from the USPTO. There are no extra fees for filing online, and if you understand what you’re doing, have your information together, an image you can upload as proof, and money for the fees, the process is really pretty easy. Check out TEAS here.

MORE: An easy, cheap way to file a trademark

Trademark Voyeur

Here’s a look at some famous trademarks, and the official owners of those marks, direct from the official records of the Patent and Trademark Office.

What is a copyright?

A copyright, on the other hand, is described by the U.S. Copyright Office like this:

Copyright, a form of intellectual property law, protects original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, and artistic works such as poetry, novels, movies, songs, computer software and architecture. Copyright does not protect facts, ideas, systems, or methods of operation, although it may protect the way these things are expressed.

Therefore, band names are not protectable by copyright law — nor are product names, titles, slogans or short phrases.

However, If the music exists in any fixed form (on paper or in a recording — from a studio, a rehearsal tape or just by you singing into a digital recorder), it is technically automatically protected by copyright.

From section 102 of the US Copyright Law, copyright protection exists “in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”