Are Emojis Copyrighted?

Emojis have become an integral part of our digital communication. Their popularity and widespread use have led to many questions about their legal status. Are they copyrighted? Can you use them freely in your products or videos? This article aims to answer these questions.

Disclaimer: Please note that while we provide information based on extensive legal knowledge and extensive research, we are not lawyers. The content provided should not be taken as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney or legal expert regarding any legal matters or questions.


To understand the nuances of emoji copyright, we first need to understand what emojis are. Emojis are pictographs โ€” images that represent words, concepts, emotions, or ideas. They have roots in earlier forms of digital pictographs, like emoticons, which were combinations of punctuation marks to convey emotions (e.g., ๐Ÿ™‚ for a smiley face).

Emojis originated in Japan in the 1990s, and over the years, they have diversified and grown into a universal language of their own. Their creation and distribution have been overseen by various entities, with the Unicode Consortium playing a central role in standardizing them for global use.

The Unicode Consortium maintains a list of all emojis which have a unique identifier known as Common Locale Data Repository or CLDR for short. With that said companies such as Apple, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Discord, Slack, and many others have chosen to maintain their own proprietary designs and sometimes their own set of emojis – this is going to be important later.

Proprietary Emoji and Designs

While the Unicode Consortium provides standard codes for a vast array of emojis, there are emojis that exist outside of this standardized set. These are known as proprietary emojis. Such emojis are typically owned by corporations and have unique designs that distinguish them from Unicode-standardized emojis. These proprietary emojis, without a Unicode designation, can only be used within the platforms of their respective owners. When sent to other platforms, they often appear as blank squares or other placeholders.

Companies like Apple, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, Discord, Slack, and even non-tech companies such as Anheuser-Busch may have their proprietary emojis. These could be used for branding or campaigns and might not be universally recognized across all platforms due to the lack of Unicode standardization.

To make things even more confusing, it is not uncommon for companies to maintain their own proprietary designs of standard Unicode emojis. This is why you’ll see that emojis sometimes look different on Apple and Android.

Are Emojis Copyrighted or Trademarked?

The short answer is no but there are some very important caveats. For an emoji to be copyrighted, it must possess enough unique expression to be deemed a work of authorship. While the idea of, for example, a smiley face or a heart isnโ€™t copyrightable, specific designs that bring a unique take on these general concepts can be copyrighted.

The proprietary emojis and designs, given their distinctive designs and branding goals, often meet the criteria for copyright protection. Especially when they have a source image protected by either copyright or trademark. In other words, you can’t just use it.

Another thing to note is that if an emoji is used to represent a brand, it may be trademarked. Using recognizable symbols or emojis that are associated with established brands in a manner that confuses consumers or implies an affiliation can lead to trademark infringement. Meaning, if you started selling phones under the ๐ŸŽ brand name, you can expect Apple to take legal action against you.

Who Owns Emoji?

While emojis themselves are in the public domain, just like the English alphabet, specific emoji designs are created and owned by different companies that use them. For example, Apple owns the copyright to its emoji set, and Samsung owns theirs.

The Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organization, is responsible for standardizing digital text exchanges, including emojis, across different computer software in hundreds of languages. They vote on which new emojis to add to the roster of available symbols each year, but they do not claim ownership over the name “emoji”.

It is important to note that there is a separate entity called the Emoji Company, which owns the Emoji trademark in more than 100 countries for various goods and services. They license the trademark to official brand partners, such as Sony Pictures Animation, for specific uses. However, this does not mean that they own all emojis or the term “emoji” itself. They are the exclusive rights owner of the registered and protected emojiยฎ trademark in up to 45 classes in more than 150 countries.

Can I sell products with emoji prints on them?

If you’re using emojis from the public domain, you’re generally in the clear. But, if you plan on using proprietary emojis, like those owned by Apple or Twitter, you’d need permission. Selling products with copyrighted emojis without consent can land you in hot water. You will also need to be careful not to infringe on the Emoji Company’s emojiยฎ trademark in up to 45 classes in more than 150 countries.

Are Apple Emojis Copyrighted?

Yes, Apple emojis are copyrighted. Apple’s distinct set of emojis, with their unique designs and characteristics, are proprietary to Apple. The company has designed them to have a specific look and feel that distinguishes them from other sets of emojis, such as those used by Google, Samsung, and other entities. Just as Apple copyrights and protects its software, app icons, and other elements of its user interface, it extends similar protection to its emojis.

Can I use Emojis in Youtube videos?

Emojis typically do not fall under copyright protection since they are regarded as commonplace symbols belonging to the public domain. However, companies like Apple own their own set of emoji designs which are subjected to copyright protection. You might be able to get away with the โ€œFair Useโ€ clauses in the copyright law, but it’s probably best to avoid any emoji designs that are copyrighted.