By Steev Stamford
My opening line on this blog post is "I am not a legal professional". I have spent a very large amount of time studying the subjects of copyright, IP and TM (trade mark).
This post is, out of necessity very general - as ever individual images need individual attention.
So here we go then:-
Broadly speaking copyright and trademarks are Intellectual Property (IP) - For something to be IP it must actually exist. You can not for example claim that your as yet to be taken image of an eagle carrying off a salmon as it flies under Tower Bridge in London as your IP. But when you do get that shot then it is your IP.
An excellent resource on the subject (for the UK at least is the government's site
Copyright does not need to be registered to exist. The moment anyone creates something (this blog entry for example - or your now world famous eagle under Tower Bridge shot) it is immediately copyright of the creator. Copyright can loosely be considered to relate to just that - a copy. So your salmon carrying eagle photo is a 2D thing - anyone creating a 2D version of it, maybe your original is on canvas and they copy it and make a paper print would be in breach of your copyright.
Take a 3D object - a car for example and make a lifelike model of it at any scale and that's a copy - hence copyrighted.
However - take same car and photograph it that's now a 2D version of a 3D object - copyright has not been broken. That's why it is legal to photograph 'coins of the realm' but not bank notes.
Trade Marks (TM)
A trade mark is anything that pretty much instantly is associated with a product or business. A good example is the backwards "R" in Toys R Us" - another would be the petrol station ones - BP's sunflower, the shell of Shell . . . Logos are a good example of a trade mark.
Trade Marks do not legally need to be registered - however if that is an important part of your business then doing so would be extremely wise. That way in the hopefully unlikely event of anyone wishing to use the same, or a 'similar' you can prove 'ownership'
Using someone else's trademark prominently in your image is potentially bad news. This is why sites like P4M decline images where things like the London Underground symbol are prominent.
Can it be both ?
Yes - easily. Take the London Underground sign. It exists in printed (2D) and physical (3D) forms. Printed on a tube station wall it is 2D and your photograph is a copy - copyright. Take a photo of one of the big 3D signs and that's more likely to be a Trade Mark issue - your 2D photo is not a 'copy' but it clearly is an image of LRT's Trade Mark and they could argue that you are using their material for your financial gain.
What happens if you 'cross the line'?
Some companies seem not to care so long as you don't show them in a bad way. Some will grant you permission to use either with or without stipulated conditions. Others do care - enough to at least start to threaten legal action. The first - and if you have any sense at all - only warning shot you'll get from their legal team will be a "cease and desist" notice.
All IP offences are in UK law 'civil' not 'criminal. This means the parties involved must make their case, present and defend themselves (or appoint lawyers to act on their behalf). As this is a civil matter there is no legal aid. Get involved in an IP case and if it gets to court then expect a legal bill running into tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Intellectual Property rights kind of cover the whole area - real creations are intellectual property and backed up by a lot of legislation.
Everything physically created is covered by copyright. Boot-legging music is copyright theft, making and selling a model of a mobile phone's design is copyright theft, photographing a movie poster and copying it is copyright.
Trade marks should be registered for the sake of the owner but they could still call a case against you if they wanted.