• I have created an open source application
  • I have also created a snazzy logo to go with the application (for example, the Eclipse logo)
  • I released my application's source code under a permissive license
  • I have not trademarked my logo

The web pages on which my Logo appears may be covered by copyright, or a more restrictive license than the source code itself. But the source code distribution also contains an image file for the logo (so I can display it when the program is running).

Does this mean that my logo is covered by the permissive license, and hence available for others to take and use for other purposes?

  • 1
    Does Apache license protects from it case?
    – Caputo
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 1:42
  • @Caputo Software Licenses do not protect logos. Logos need to be protected (usually, see my answer) by trademarks.
    – Eric
    Commented Jun 28, 2015 at 19:19
  • I would point out the 4th bullet point "I have not trademarked my logo", and would really like to see a response to the question in the last sentence
    – kdopen
    Commented Jun 30, 2015 at 15:20

5 Answers 5


Logos are a special case that reside in the creative domain covered by copyright, and the domain of trademarks related to identity. The logo itself, the style, colour, etc are usually a result of a creative process. This is usually what you can copyright. The logo denominating your product, company, etc, is what you can trademark.

So to prevent someone from using your logo to do anything besides use it as an identification tool, you would need a copyright for it. To prevent them to use it as an identifier you would need to register a trademark.

While it may seem that having a copyright would suffice, in my experience a copyright would not cover the case where they would use the logo to promote a product based on your original product (which held the logo). Some copyright licenses permit this but I would suggest you carefully pick one that does allow exactly what you want to allow.

Note that I assumed you can actually copyright your logo which may not be possible as the creative process might not be unique enough. If for some reason a copyright is not applicable to your logo, you should at least register the trademark to prevent reuse.

To sum up and answer your final point; even with a copyright, should it apply to your logo, others can use it for other purposes, likely even purposes that are completely unrelated to your activity.


It is quite common for commercial open source projects to trademark their name, logo and corporate design.

As a result, any forks can use the sourcecode, but must use a different name. This is the reason why Debian-based Linux distributions usually come with a web browser called "Iceweasel" which is essentially Mozilla Firefox.

But when you don't trademark your projects identity, then others are free to use the name. When you don't state otherwise, your license terms also apply to your project logo.


Yes and no: In most cases yes, your logo is covered under that permissive license, but also no, you still (may) retain trademark rights for use of that logo in conjunction with your software product.

Trademarks != copyright, and most open source licenses are only copyright licenses. The Apache License 2.0 is the clearest license, because it makes explicit what is actually legally implicit (even if it's not obvious to non-lawers):

  1. Trademarks. This License does not grant permission to use the trade names, trademarks, service marks, or product names of the Licensor, except as required for reasonable and customary use in describing the origin of the Work and reproducing the content of the NOTICE file.

Trademark law in almost all countries is about actual use of the name/logo by an organization (you) to refer to a specific product that you're providing to the public. As long as you are consistent about using this specific logo to refer to your software, you can call it your trademark.

You do not need to register a trademark; merely continuing to use a consistent name/logo for the same product is enough. However registration (in each country; they're all different) does give you significantly more rights and ability to prevent others from using your logo as their trademark.

Thus: people can copy and modify the logo under the permissive license. But they can't use it as their own trademark.


You most likely want to use a rather permissive licence for your logo, and handle the rest through trademark law.

If things go well, your logo is going to be used in various places to refer to your project, and the licence needs to allow that.

Technically, a print magazine writing about your project and using the logo is a derivative work, even if your "contribution" is only minimal. The logo will be converted from the colorspace it was designed in to the colorspace used for printing (most likely, some CMYK, but could also be Hexachrome or something else), which is a modification that would most likely invalidate the "mere aggregation" clause in the GPL as well.

So, you really want other people to be able to create derivative works of your logo.

Trademark law comes in because you want the logo and name to be used to refer to your project, and your project only. This is something that copyright law cannot adequately handle, because e.g. a visually similar but independently designed logo would not be considered infringing.

  • A macOS app bundle could be considered a mere aggregation, right? It's only a folder after all and nothing is statically or dynamically linked. So if I distribute the logo as part of the app bundle and not part of the binary, I can apply a more restrictive license to it without violating the GPL.
    – mb21
    Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 12:22
  • @mb21, 無。 You are still trying to apply copyright law to a problem that is not a copyright problem. The GPL is already unreasonably strict as a license for a logo, so looking for a way to apply an even stricter license is pointless. Commented Nov 4, 2018 at 16:43
  • I understand that trademark law would be the better tool. But the reality is that's too expensive for small projects just getting started. The idea is to GPL-license the code, but keep the image file out of it even though it's in the same repo and app bundle. Sort of like Firefox/Iceweasel...
    – mb21
    Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 10:45
  • 1
    @mb21, the point is: you want people to copy your logo and use it everywhere to refer to your software. The more coverage, the better, make sure to always place a link to your homepage on any material you hand out. This gives you the best possible starting point for registering a trademark later, and makes the name, and by extension the logo, unattractive for others to use as they would have to contend with your marketing efforts. Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 14:39

From OSI FAQ:-

Does Open Source mean anybody else can use my name and logo?

No, at least not any more than they could otherwise. Open Source is about software source code, not about identity. That is, letting people use your code under an Open Source license is not the same as letting them use your trademarks or other identifying attributes, except insofar as they would be permitted to anyway (for example, in nominative use doctrine). There are many companies and other organizations that release open source code while exercising tight control over their trademarks.

Trademarks and other marks of attribution are primarily about preventing public confusion over identity and provenance, and therefore trademark regulation is useful in Open Source software in the same way it is useful generally.

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