From time to time, people write in with short questions about intellectual property law. We’re always happy to help educate the public about their IP rights, so KLF Legal tries to respond to each inquiry as best we can. The answers tend to be brief since the questions don’t typically include a lot of information. However, I thought it might be helpful to share these questions from time to time in a post category entitled “Dear KLF Legal”…enjoy!

Is there an equivalent form of “fair use” for logos? It really seems unreasonable that I can’t make use of the three lines that make up a Nike “swoosh” without permission.

There is a doctrine of “fair use” in trademark law, but it deals more with third-party use of another company’s trademarks for advertising or nominative uses rather than the ability to use similar trademark elements. One pillar of trademark law, which surprisingly is rarely mentioned, is the avoidance of consumer confusion. When people see the “swoosh”, they know they’re purchasing a high-quality product from Nike Inc. If every shoe company, particularly those that create poor quality products, started using a swoosh, a consumer would no longer be able to identify high-quality products with the swoosh trademark.

What’s the legality of music bloggers posting sample mp3’s without express permission?

A more detailed answer on legality will depend on whether the mp3s are available for download or only for listening. From a “real world” viewpoint, record companies typically have not been enforcing copyrights against music blogs because they view them as free advertising. The economic significance of MP3 blogs is small compared to P2P networks.

What is the cheapest and easiest way to copyright my content? From a blog post to a word document.

Once your original work is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” (i.e. you have finished your blog post or word document), copyright protection is automatic and free. Hurrah. However, registration with the U.S. Copyright Office brings additional benefits, perhaps most importantly the ability to enforce your rights against infringers in federal court. Registration is quick and inexpensive ($35) so I usually recommend it for commercial works.