Are Military branch logos and crests copyright trademark or public domain?

Asked about 4 years ago - Clarksville, TN

I would like to place the military crests on a beer mug in an etched format with no colors and with less detail. I would like to know if those are in public domain or not. Also would I even be allowed to create a different graphic to still represent the armed forces such as army, navy, etc, even if it just has like a graphic and the name such as (Air Force and a graphic of an f-18)?
Thank you

Attorney answers (5)

  1. Pamela Koslyn

    Contributor Level 20

    1

    Lawyer agrees

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    Answered . No "non-official" use is permitted, although they say they take requests on a case-by-case basis. Please see the link below for their contact info. I doubt beer mugs are something they'd approve, but who knows.

    Disclaimer: Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship.

  2. Daniel Nathan Ballard

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . Your question is ambiguous by your use of the phrase "military crests."

    It's better to identify military symbols by referring to them as the "seal" of each of the military departments [the USAF, Department of Army, Department of Navy, and Marine Corps] and differentiating these department seals from military unit "insignias" -- of which there are many.

    It is certainly unlawful if anyone "falsely makes, forges, counterfeits, mutilates, or alters the seal of any department or agency of the United States, or any facsimile thereof." [18 USC 506].

    But a military unit insignia is NOT "the seal" of a military department so I'm not at all sure that it's unlawful to reproduce and sell military unit insignia. As for any of the military departments registering their military unit insignias as trademarks, I could not find any such registrations and frankly doubt they're even registrable -- or even act as trademarks at all -- because the insignia are not used in commerce.

    There is a statute on point just for the Marine Corps which makes it unlawful to "use or imitate the seal, emblem, name, or initials of the United States Marine Corps in connection with any promotion, goods, services, or commercial activity in a manner reasonably tending to suggest that such use is approved, endorsed, or authorized by the Marine Corps." See 10 USC 7881. Note that this is NOT a wholesale proscription against using the Marine Corps seal, emblem, name or initials but rather ONLY if that use will tend to suggest that the Corps endorses such use -- which, implicitly, acknowledges that some uses will NOT suggest such endorsement.

    At the end of the day, you NEED to have a trademark attorney dig deeper into this question if you intend to sell products affixed with military unit insignia. Many companies sell such products. Whether those sales are lawful can only be answered by your own attorney. Good luck.

  3. Oscar Michelen

    Contributor Level 16

    Answered . While most government publications are public domain and free of copyright restrictions, the government does own intellectual property and has trademark rights in various marks. Get a licensing agreement in place before taking on this business venture.

  4. J Mark Smith

    Contributor Level 9

    Answered . As an illustration, the U.S. Army has over 500 listed trademarks in response to a search on the USPTO website listing them as owner. Expect any well known insignia or shield to be protected by trademarks and seek competent counsel before starting any business based on the use of these.

  5. J Mark Smith

    Contributor Level 9

    Answered . As an illustration, the U.S. Army has over 500 listed trademarks in response to a search on the USPTO website listing them as owner. Expect any well known insignia or shield to be protected by trademarks and seek competent counsel before starting any business based on the use of these.

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