Generally speaking, here’s how they are defined:
Copyright helps to protect original work by granting exclusive rights to the author/creator of that work. It helps protect the form in which ideas are expressed, rather than the actual ideas themselves.
For example, if I wrote a piece of music based around the sounds of the London underground (which I won’t be doing any time soon) I could copyright the actual piece of music I created and have exclusive rights of control over the copying, reproduction or other exploitation of my work. My copyright, however, could not prevent someone using the London underground as inspiration for their own musical venture.
A trademark is a distinctive sign (e.g. a word, symbol, phrase, logo etc.) that is used to uniquely indentify an organisation, brand or individual. The owner of a registered trademark may take legal action if they feel that someone is using their trademark without authorisation (trademark infringement).
The first of the aforementioned stories is about mother-of-two Dawn Reid. She has been accused of copying smoothie brand innocent for her own small business making children’s additive-free vitamins.
It’s reported that Innocent Drinks wrote to Mrs Reid requesting that she stopped trading under the name Innocent Vitamins. However, Mrs Reid is determined to keep using the name, insisting there was no intention of copying on her part and that the two brands are not similar.
Drinks giant, Innocent, are not happy about the similarity of Mrs Reid’s logo – which has “innocent” written in all lower case letters. As the two brands are both associated with healthy living – Innocent Drinks are concerned that this could lead to confusion for customers.
The Evening Standard ran this story with some wise words from a trademark specialist at London law firm Harbottle & Lewis – she said:
”Innocent Drinks have not yet got the Innocent name registered as a trade mark covering vitamins. But this does not mean that they can’t object to use of the name by Innocent Vitamins. If people are confused into thinking that Innocent Vitamins are a new line by Innocent Drinks or Innocent Vitamins have piggybacked on the reputation of the Innocent Drinks brand, the vitamin company may have to change their name…”
We’ll wait and see what becomes of this ‘innocent’ case.
The second story along a similar theme is all about breast milk ice cream (eek!).
Lady Gaga is apparently threatening legal action against Covent Garden outlet The Icecreamists and their new ice cream made with human breast milk. The ice cream is planned to carry the name Baby Gaga and consists of breast milk blended with vanilla pods and lemon zest.
The flamboyant music star is apparently upset by the use of this name, which she believes bears reference to her own pop persona title. Lady Gaga’s lawyers have called the ice-cream product ‘nausea-inducing’ and claimed that it’s ‘intended to take advantage of [her] reputation and goodwill’.
It seems The Icecreamists are being accused of riding on Lady Gaga’s current wave of success and using her popularity and ‘cool factor’ to promote their own product. Apparently, they’ve used a waitress dressed up like Lady Gaga to serve the new ice cream. Reports have claimed that the Gaga legal machine wants the outlet to ‘change the name of the ice cream to something which is not aurally, visually or conceptually similar to Lady Gaga’ or court action will be taken.
A replica Star Wars helmet is currently at the centre of some controversy.
American film mogul, George Lucas, is making another attempt to sue a former prop designer for selling clones of the famous Stormtrooper helmets.
Prop designer, Andrew Ainsworth, helped make the original head gear for the 1977 film but faced legal action when he started selling replicas of the storm trooper helmet online, based on the original moulds. Although Mr Ainsworth was involved in making the original work, Jonathan Sumption QC told the court that it was an ‘implied term’ of the work that the designer ‘would not be entitled to retain copyright for the artefacts.’ Read more here.
As these 3 recent cases reveal, copyright and trademark infringement can certainly be a legal minefield. The legal costs involved in defending yourself or your small business could be crippling – not to mention any fines that could issued. If your business could be at risk, it’s worth thinking about putting sufficient Professional Indemnity Insurance in place.