Copyright and Trademarks

Copyright is a bundle of exclusive legal rights that vary depending on the type of work. A copyright owner can grant some or all of those rights to others through a license. This section will lay out our approach to copyrights, trademarks, and Creative Commons licenses.

Basics

Copyright protection applies to any original works that are fixed in a tangible medium. This includes works like drawings, recordings of a song, short stories, or paintings, but not something like a garden, since it will grow and change by nature. Copyright does not cover facts, ideas, names, or characters.

Copyright protection begins when the work is first created and it doesn’t require any formal filings. However, to enforce a copyright in the US, you need to register the work with the US Copyright Office. (For further clarity, check out their FAQ page, which is full of gems like “How do I protect my sighting of Elvis?”)

Copyright notice on the work is not required but it is recommended, since it cuts off a defense of innocent infringement.

Copyright law applies to nearly every piece of content we create at MailChimp, from our website to our blog posts to the gifts we make for our users. We display proper—and prominent—copyright notice on our website site and any other content we produce.

At minimum, these copyright notices read, “© [YEAR] MailChimp.”

At the bottom of every page of our website, we also include a longer notice to make it clear that all rights are reserved and our marks are registered: “© 2001-2015 All Rights Reserved. MailChimp® is a registered trademark of The Rocket Science Group.”

Other creators’ copyrights

We respect the copyright of other creators. If we want to use someone else’s copyrighted work, we have to obtain a license from the owners.

A copyright license spells out these terms:

  • Where we can use the work
  • How long we can use it for
  • How much we’ll pay them for the use
  • Whether or not we’re the only ones who can use the work
  • What we can do with the work
  • Any restrictions on our use (for example, that we can use it online but not on a billboard)

A common license will read something like this:

“You grant MailChimp a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty free license to display, distribute, and publish the Work in our marketing in any medium now known or later developed.”

If you need to get a copyright license for work at MailChimp or if someone outside of MailChimp asks to use our copyrighted work, please contact the legal team.

This is an area where the letter of the law and common practice sometimes differ.

Social media posts often include copyrighted elements like pictures, gifs, or pieces of writing. If you’re using a copyrighted element in a commercial manner on social media, you should request permission from the copyright holder. Since MailChimp is a company, we defer to the position that our use will be perceived as commercial. But if you’re using it in a more informative or commentary way, like sharing a meme to indicate how you feel about a news story, you may not need to request permission.

Regardless, you should always link to the source of the copyrighted element you’re using, and never make it look like you created work that belongs to someone else.

MailChimp almost always uses original images in our blog posts. If you use an image, photo, or other design element made by someone outside MailChimp, get permission first. Once you have permission, always give the copyright owner credit and link back to the original source.

Images retrieved via Google image search are not licensed for fair use, but many images are available under license through stock photo websites, or open for use under a Creative Commons license. Flickr has a great search feature for images available under Creative Commons licenses.

Other licenses

Creative Commons licenses

Instead of the standard “all rights reserved,” some creators choose to make their work available for public use with different levels of attribution required. That’s what we’ve done with this style guide. Find a breakdown of licenses on the Creative Commons website.

Please check with MailChimp’s legal team before making something you created here available under a Creative Commons license. We love to share our work, but we use these licenses sparingly, because we have to protect our intellectual property and trade secrets.

Trademarks

A trademark, often called a mark, can be a word, name, sign, design, or a combination of those. It’s used to identify the provider of a particular product or service. They’re usually words and images, but in some cases, they can even be a color.

To be protectable, a trademark needs a distinctive element. There’s a “spectrum of distinctiveness” that spans from inherently protectable marks to ones that require additional proof to ones that may never be protected.

  • Fanciful marks, which are made up words like Kodak or Xerox, are the most easily registered and protected.
  • Arbitrary marks, which are words which are used out of context like Apple or Sprite, are also easy to protect.
  • Suggestive marks, which suggest at some element of the goods or services like Greyhound, follow.
  • Descriptive marks, where the word's dictionary meaning aligns with the goods or services offered, like Mr. Plumber or Lektronic, are not protectable unless they develop a secondary meaning. That means a consumer would immediately associate the mark with only that good or service. This can be hard to prove, so it's best to avoid descriptive marks when possible.
  • Generic terms, or the common name for a product or service, are not protectable.

We usually classify MailChimp as a suggestive mark, but it could also be considered fanciful.

A trademark is only valid for as long as it indicates the source of that good or service, so we have to be very careful about how our marks are used. We send out cease and desist letters sometimes, because even the friendliest companies have to protect their trademarks. If a trademark is properly protected, it can last forever and may be a company's most valuable asset.

Displaying trademark notices

To note that something is a trademark, and in the case of registered marks in order to collect damages, the trademark has to be displayed with an appropriate symbol.

Here are the various trademark symbols and when to use them:

  • For unregistered trademarks of goods, use ™
  • For unregistered trademarks of services, use ℠
  • For trademarks granted registration by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, use ®
    • Note that using ® on marks that haven’t been registered by the USPTO can be considered fraud, so if you’re not sure if a trademark is registered, don’t use ® .

The trademark symbol should appear as close to the mark as possible.

Here’s how to indicate MailChimp’s trademark:

  • Include the ® symbol in the upper right-hand corner, above the word: MailChimp® this use is preferable.
  • Include the ® symbol in the lower right-hand corner, below the word: MailChimp®

Marks are also sometimes indicated by using all caps: MAILCHIMP

Our trademarks should be properly noted the first time they’re used in a press release or article, or anywhere else our trademark and copyright notice does not appear.

Registering trademarks at MailChimp

We register all of our trademarks. Before we decide to use a name for a product, we perform a trademark search to make sure there aren’t any confusingly similar trademarks already in use.

For the most part, our trademarks are “suggestive marks,” which mean the name suggests at some element of the goods or services represented.

If you’re working on a new product at MailChimp, submit name possibilities to the legal team so they can get a head start on the trademark search. Even if you haven’t used the name yet, we can go ahead and file an Intent to Use application.