The development of a company logo by a graphic designer took over a year. Nevertheless, in a recent decision Frankfurt Higher Regional Court ruled that the work is not copyright protected – the “required minimum degree of aesthetic content” had not been achieved (Frankfurt Higher Regional Court, June 12, 2019, Case 11 U 51/18).
In addition, the client was granted a free, perpetual right to use the logo. The decision shows not least that companies should protect their logos differently, such as by trademark or design protection.
Graphic design works may also obtain copyright protection. However, with a view to other protected types of work such as literature, art, and music, not every trivial, manual work is supposed to be protected by copyright. It follows from case law that certain conditions must be met: There must at least be design leeway that is used creatively by the creator. The Higher Regional Court stated that the design can, however, only establish copyright protection if its aesthetic effect is not simply derived from the purpose of use but is based on an artistic achievement.”
With respect to the logo shown above, the court held that neither the word element “match” nor the graphic design met these requirements. In the audio field, the word “match” is associated with plug-and-play devices, so that the designation is directly derived from the intended purpose. Nor does the graphic implementation achieve “the minimum degree of aesthetic content required for a work of art.” According to the court, this was supported by the fact that, among other things, a publicly available font was used that was only slightly modified for better legibility. The figurative element (two triangles) was also incapable of imbuing an artistic touch, since the symbol was known as the “fast forward key” in the audio environment. The considerable amount of work also failed to convince the judges: The fact that development and release of the logo took more than a year does not constitute proof of artistic achievement – but “only” a great deal of (skilled) work.
Tip for the practice:
The judgement shows that harboring the false hope that logos are sufficiently protected by copyright against imitators could be costly. Rather, logos should additionally be protected by trademark and design registrations.
Authors: Margret Knitter, LL.M.; Martin Matzner, LL.M.