Am starting a community organization to promote our Town. I'd like to utilize the Town Seal which I believe is not yet copyrighted although has been in use for a couple of years. This would be used ONLY in a positive light. Due to town politics, I sense an argument may ensue. If there is presently no copyright, can I apply for one. Current research has shown that no one knows who designed the seal and I can find no copyright registration of same.
Copyright is a bundle of righhts which the creator of a work gets automatically when s/he creates an original work of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. If you didn't create the work, or the creator didn't transfer the copyright to you, you don't own the copyright and can't claim it unless you hired the person who created the work to create such works and the work-for-hire doctrine applies. Moreover copyright registration is a formality, and copyright no longer turns on formalities since the US has been in compliance with the Berne Convention since 1989 or 1990.
You may be asking about trademark. Since the town is already using the seal to identify its official activities, the town probably has a prior claim on its use and could contest any attempt to register it as yours. A trademark owner has the right to prevent others from using it. Do you seriously think a court is going to stop a town from using its own seal because a citizen registered, or attempted to register, the seal after the town begsn to use it? The purpose of trademark law is to provide assurance as to source, sponsorship or authorization. I think it would get pretty confusing having a town, and a private organization in that town, using the same seal. Any battle over its use could get pretty expensive given the going rate for trademark litigators these days. Why not invent your own seal?
Not legal advice as I don't practice law in New Hampshire. It's just my two cents on the facts you describe in light of general principles of law. If you need legal advice, please consult a lawyer who holds New Hampshire licensure. That's not me.
No. Only the author of the town seal has the right to copyright protection. Since you are not the author, it would be a fraud for you to apply for copyright protection. Copyright protection arises automatically whenever a work is created in a "tangible medium of expression." Whoever first designed the town seal owns the copyright---(unless that person assigned the rights to someone else, or unless the rights were assigned to the town).
Further, the Town Seal may also be protected by trademark law, and the Town would own the rights. These rights arise from use in commerce, not registration. You have no right to swoop in and register these rights under your name---frankly, such conduct borders on criminality.
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