Some Things That Are Not Copyright

Clearing up a few common mistakes about concerns that are not covered by copyright law.

In order to effectively protect your rights, it’s a good idea to know about a few issues of concern that are not copyright matters. Below is some general guidance based on topics that are commonly confused with copyright.


Often referred to interchangeably with copyright, trademark serves different purposes. While copyright protects creative expression, trademarks protect the brand names, logos, and slogans that indicate the source of a product or service. While it is certainly possible for a logo to be both sufficiently creative to be copyrightable AND a trademark of a company, the two laws protect different aspects and uses. Copyright registration is necessary for access to the most important enforcement tools–and RightsClick can help you with that. Trademarks can be registered at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Often referred to interchangeably with copyright, trademark is very different. Simply put, trademarks protect the integrity of brand names, both for the sake of the brand and the consumer. Thus, company names, logos, and slogans are common subjects of trademark. Unlike copyright rights, trademark protection is not automatic. It takes time for full approval of a mark, and a mark must be maintained through a renewal process. Trademarks are administered by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.


Copyright protects the exclusive right to use (exploit) a work, but other than one narrow exception, it does not protect the “good name” of the author of a work. In general, conduct that may result in reputational harm is a matter of libel or defamation, not copyright. Often, the reputation question is misunderstood by both owners and users of copyrighted works when it comes to attribution.

While attribution may be a legal obligation, a means to avoid plagiarism, or just good manners, “giving credit” does not in any way excuse an unlicensed use of a work. Creators should note, however, that when an agreement to use a work is, in part, conditioned on attribution, failure by the licensor to do so may give rise to a claim.

The exception to the above is a part of the Copyright Act added as a result of the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). Section 106(A) provides for certain rights of attribution for visual artists, and it prohibits certain misuses of visual works that may cause reputational harm to their creators. See the statute.

Unwanted Criticism

This often comes up in context to the takedown provisions of the DMCA. Not that it happens as often as the copyright critics like to say, but sometimes a copyright owner will seek to remove material and/or threaten an infringement claim because their work has been used to comment on it or criticize it in a way they don’t like. Silencing criticism is not a basis for enforcing copyright rights. The use at issue must violate one of the exclusive rights listed on our Copyright Information page. And since criticism is an activity favored under fair use, copyright owners should proceed with caution before alleging infringement in these situations.


Especially with the rapid expansion of artificial intelligence, concern is growing over the misuse of one’s likeness, which can include one’s face, body, and/or voice. Although there are certain, limited, rights protecting the use of a likeness, this area of law exists outside the scope of copyright. In fact, it is often the opposite topic with examples like photography, where the photographer, not the subject, is the copyright owner of the image.

What we can tell you is that likeness is generally (albeit narrowly) protected by the Right of Publicity (ROP), which is statutory law in 25 states. There are stronger prohibitions against the misuse of likeness for the production and distribution of nonconsensual sexual material. We recommend the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative as a primary source on this topic.