Photo by Bazstyle Photography
When creating a logo or trademark, some companies use royalty-free or rights-managed stock images in the design. This can be a legally precarious situation since the stock content is technically licensed for use, but it may not necessarily include trademark rights. Stock content is typically used for content in the form website photos, videos used in advertising, news and editorial content, or stock music used in videos, advertising, and original programming.
By contrast, stock images are rare in logos or trademarks of companies, and when you think about it this makes sense. If a stock image provider like Getty Images permitted the use of their photos in a trademark, they themselves, and certainly their licensees, may face trademark infringement from the brand owner who licensed an image, then trademarks a version of that image.
The Best Practice for Trademark Protection of Logos
Logos are interesting in that they contain a graphical work, the logo, and graphical works are copyright subject matter. In addition, as a logo, the graphical work will be protected by trademark law. For an explanation on the distinction between copyright and trademarks as different forms of intellectual property protection see here, and here.
The best practice to determine the legal use of stock imagery or artwork in a logo or trademark is to consult a copyright and trademark attorney to review the License Agreement from the site for which the work will be licensed. This will determine whether the license allows or prohibits trademark use of the stock content.
I would recommend any trademark owner using stock content in their logos, whether the content is licensed under a royalty-free arrangement, or rights-managed arrangement, to use caution. I have reviewed stock image licensing agreements and they vary greatly as to the extent of use permitted under licensing arrangement. If the use of stock content in the logo is not a viable option, the next best option is to can hire a graphic designer to design an alternative image for the logo, ensuring legally that the image is original, then adopt the logo as part of the company trademark portfolio. The company is wise to ensure all copyrights in graphic designs vest in the company.
Author: David N. Sharifi, Esq. is a Los Angeles based intellectual property attorney and technology startup consultant with focuses in entertainment law, emerging technologies, trademark protection, and “the internet of things”. David was recognized as one of the Top 30 Most Influential Attorneys in Digital Media and E-Commerce Law by the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2014. Office: Ph: 310-751-0181; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The content above is a discussion of legal issues and general information; it does not constitute legal advice and should not be used as such without seeking professional legal counsel. Reading the content above does not create an attorney-client relationship. All trademarks are the property of L.A. Tech & Media Law Firm or their respective owners. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved.