Copyright for Brewers Part I – Copyright Registration

Brewers are a creative bunch. Label artwork is a great example of this. From the gentleman with the hops exploding out of the top of his head that graces Heady Topper to the happy baby on every bottle of Founders Breakfast Stout, the craft beer world is full of iconic label art. These labels are critically important to a brewery’s brand and reputation, and copyright law is a powerful way to protect this intellectual property.

First copyright is different than trademark. My previous articles focused on trademark concerns for breweries, including proper trademark searching, federal trademark registration, and what to do if your brewery receives a cease and desist letter. There are major differences between trademark and copyright. Trademarks are, most often, text or symbols that are used to identify and distinguish the source of goods of one party from another. Nike is a trademark and Chevy is a trademark. Copyright, on the other hand, protects original works of authorship expressed in tangible form. Paintings, books, movies, and songs are the types of works that are protected by copyright. While trademark registration are good for protection of beer names, brewery names, and logos, label art is oftentimes better protected by copyright.

So you’ve got art for your beer labels, six packs, or even your website and you want to protect it. The good news is that your works are protected by copyright once they are created, regardless of whether you register the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, registration of copyright in your label art is highly recommended as there are several important benefits that are conferred by federal registration. Some of these include:

  • Leverage: If someone is infringing your copyright, it is often easier to get them to stop if you have a federal registration for the copyright.
  • Ability to Bring Lawsuit: Importantly, you need a copyright registration in order to bring a copyright infringement lawsuit. This is critical because, when it comes down to it, the way to get another party to stop infringing your work, or to recoup and damages, is to bring a lawsuit.
  • Damages: Copyright registration (within certain time frames) allows the copyright owner the possibility of receiving statutory damages and attorneys’ fees. Otherwise, copyright owners are limited to actual damages, which can be very difficult to prove.
  • Notice: Registration provides notice that you are the owner of the copyrighted work.
  • Validity: Registration (within certain time frames) constitutes prima facie evidence that your copyright is valid.

Copyright registration is an important tool for breweries and it is a relatively easy way for brewers to protect the intellectual property in their label art.

This article is intended to provide general information on a wide range of issues, including legal issues, affecting the brewing industry.  It is not intended to provide specific legal advice and no legal advice is given.  You understand that merely using this blog does not create an attorney client relationship between you and Harris Beach PLLC or Brendan Palfreyman. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Brendan Palfreyman