Logos are protected by U.S. trademark law, not copyright, and fair use of a trademark is not the same as fair use of copyrighted work. The reasoning behind fair use in either instance, however, is similar, as it protects a fundamental right of free expression. Fair use allows the use of a logo without seeking permission from the trademark owner, but only under certain circumstances.
U.S. trademark law, as set forth in the Lanham Act, provides for a non-owner of a logo registered as a trademark to make fair use or “nominative use” without prior permission from the trademark owner. Logos as trademarks also can be protected by state law and court rulings in common law. The Publishing Law Center explains that, unlike a copyright, the trademark ownership of a logo could potentially last forever. But logos don’t have to be registered as trademarks to be protected under common law. The law allows the owner of a trademarked logo to attempt to prevent any appropriation of the logo for use on competing goods or services or any use that could cause consumer confusion on ownership or endorsement. The rights of the logo owner, however, are not absolute.
The fair use or nominative use of our Lakes Community High School logo is recognized for purposes of description and identification. A newspaper, for instance, may incorporate our school logo in an article about our standardized testing results. Trademark allows an author of a nonfiction work to use our trademarked logo only to describe or identify our school. It might not be considered fair use, for instance, for a book on the general condition of the public education system in Illinois to incorporate only the logo of LCHS on its cover. Actual findings of infringement are left to the courts.
Our internal staff, activity sponsors, and athletic coaches from time to time use our logo for selling merchandise to raise funding for our student programs. This is an excellent example of fair use of our Lakes Community High School logo.
We ask that anyone using our trademark appropriately use our likeness for positive description and identification, as well as the promotion of student achievement within our schools and communities that we serve.