Are Logos Considered Public Domain? The Facts Explained

Let’s say you’re creating a design that features the logo of a popular brand. Before publishing your design for sale, you might be wondering if the logo is considered public domain, or is this something you need permission to use?

For the most part, logos are not considered public domain. Most logos are trademarked or copyrighted, both of which are forms of intellectual property protection and restrict how others may use the logo. However, this doesn’t apply to all logos, and there are some designs that are considered public domain.

Identifying what you can and cannot include in a design is a complex topic to master, particularly when it comes to logos. This article teaches more about when a logo is in the public domain and when it isn’t, and what you need to know about it.

Are All Logos Public Domain?

While shopping on Etsy or Amazon, you may have seen some products with designs that feature logos from big-name brands like Marvel, Target, or Starbucks. So, doesn’t this mean logos are considered public domain? Not exactly.

Public domain refers to creative items not protected by intellectual property regulations, such as copyright, trademark, or patent legislation. Even though it is not explicitly stated in the United States Copyright Act, it is a valid way for individuals to know what they are permitted to use and what they are not.

A logo is an image, typographic design, or symbol used to help people remember a brand, service, or product. In most cases, logos are included in some kind of copyright or trademark, and you must get permission before you can use them.

When is a Logo Considered Public Domain?

Public domain works may be used without permission or compensation from the copyright holder. In other words, if the logo is in the public domain, you are allowed to use and reproduce it without limitation. Media in the public domain has either been given to the general public, or its rights have lapsed due to its age.

As a result of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, copyrights may now continue for as long as the author lives, plus an additional 70 years. Copyright law protects corporate works for 95 years from their first publication or for 120 years after creation, whichever comes first in the timeframe.

That means that all works published in the United States before 1927 will no longer be protected by copyright as of 2022.

However, this doesn’t always mean that you can use the logo. Yes, the copyright has expired, but there may be other protections, like trademarks, that are still in place. Avoid assuming that all protections have run out just because one or more have. Make sure to do a trademark search before using any characters, names, or slogans to avoid any issues. 

How to Find Out if a Logo Is Trademarked

Before using a logo that is considered public domain, use the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to look for all trademarks that have been applied for or are already registered. It’s also possible to do a trademark search by visiting the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Public Search Facility or by visiting a Patent and Trademark Resource Center in your area. 

Even though a logo is considered public domain, it may not be the best idea to use it as your logo. For the most part, this is because anybody may use it as their own logo. Depending on the market you’re in, this may make it hard for your business to stand out among the competition.

This can also cause problems in the future if you hope to trademark the design for protection, as it is unlikely that it would qualify. 

Alternatively, you could utilize the logo as a starting point for a completely unique piece of art. A good example of this is Placeit’s Logo Maker. This free online tool allows you to quickly create eye-catching logos from a selection of more than 8,000 professionally created logo designs.

Final Thoughts

Trademark and copyright protection can overlap when it comes to logos, making this area of intellectual property law difficult to navigate. Hopefully, the above article cleared up any questions you had on logos in the public domain.

You may want to consider using pre-made logo templates from a website like Placeit, because it will give you a great head start on logo design, and still give you the option to trademark and copyright the logo as your own.

If you still have questions about using a logo, consider hiring a trademark attorney for more help. You might also want to use a public domain logo as inspiration, but then create your own unique design that you can trademark and copyright.