With the growth of crowd sourced and alternative media, the importance of protecting one’s creative outlet is likewise of growing concern. Just ask PewDiePie, a famous YouTuber whose tens of millions of subscribers and billions of total views have turned this one time geeky Swedish kid that liked to doodle video game characters into a multi-millionaire media personality. Although he is probably the most prominent example, he is hardly alone, and many YouTubers have been able to turn their video making hobbies into well paying jobs. At the center of each such endeavor is the channel, the online persona and digital brand that identifies the videos, and creates the common commercial impression under which the videos are presented.
SO, CAN I TRADEMARK MY CHANNEL?
Yes! Although trademarking a YouTube channel may seem somewhat unorthodox, as you are essentially trademarking your online social media account, there is plenty of precedent of YouTube channel names being trademarked. The most common route is to mark the channel as an “entertainment service” as you are, after all, entertaining your viewers with your videos, though any merchandise provided alongside or related to the channel may also be trademarked, each in the relevant class. You can also mark a slogan or a logo that is used on your channel, as long as the relevant marks are displayed prominently and proximately enough to the videos to make it clear they are used to indicate the brand that serves as the source of the videos.
WHAT DOES THAT GET ME?
Like any other trademark, a trademark for a YouTube channel gives you the exclusive right to call a YouTube channel (or other streaming entertainment media, as long as your Identification of Goods and Services is drafted correctly) by the trademarked name, and stop others from using any confusingly similar name. So, PewDiePie’s trademark prevents anyone else from making videos under the PewDiePie name, but also under confusingly similar names like PiePewDie, or any other name could be argued to be confusingly similar. This protection can also extend to promotional materials, or even merchandise like clothing, though it’s probably a good idea to also file for a separate mark on merchandise, if it is a major revenue stream.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITS?
The most important limitation of a trademark on your YouTube channel is that the Trademark does not protect the content or style of the videos themselves. As with any trademark, the protection extends only the use of the brand identifiers (the channel name, slogans, logos, etc.) and not the substance of the goods or services. In other words, a young blonde Swedish guy could still make comedy videos, and videos about video games and geek culture; he just couldn’t call himself PewDiePie, or anything too similar. That said, the content of your videos will be protected by copyright law, and is most commonly enforced online under the DMCA, though you should be very careful when filing a takedown notice with YouTube, as intentional misuse of the DMCA can lead to serious legal liability.
ANTON LEONOV, is an Associate Trademark Attorney with LegalForce RAPC. From an early age, he has been experimenting with (others may call it “breaking”) computer hardware, in an effort to get the most out of every slice of silicon. Although his “just to see what happens” overclocking days are behind him, he is still a sucker for all things tech, and loves the opportunities that his IP legal career gives him to live at the crossroads of creation and the law. He holds a BA in Economics from UC Irvine, and a JD with honors from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He is admitted to practice law in Arizona.