Is it legal to copy legal documents?
September 4, 2010 5:49 AM   Subscribe

Unless specified against so, is it legal to copy other people's legal documents (work contract, websites' disclaimer, terms of use, etc) for my own use? I want to copy parts of other people's legal documents to create a customized version for my own business.
posted by bbxx to Law & Government (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Legal documents are subject to copyright law, so technically not allowed. However the practice of "gaining inspiration" from someone else's legal documents is quite common.
posted by jannw at 5:57 AM on September 4, 2010

posted by spacewrench at 6:29 AM on September 4, 2010

Best answer: IANAL. IMHO, when beginning a business, one of the first things you buy really should be a few hours of an attorney's time for this kind of thing. It's one of those things you can't afford not to do.

If you are starting on a shoestring, consider compiling some examples of the documents you like and then have the attorney create your documents based on them. This will save some attorney time over writing them from scratch.

The attorney's job is to make sure the terms are enforceable in your town/county/state/country. Your concern shouldn't be someone suing you for copyright infringement because you lifted their stuff. Rather, it should be finding out in court after you had to invoke the contract terms against a customer that those terms you cobbled together are not legally valid in your jurisdiction.
posted by abigredchair at 7:12 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

It's not legal; and if you're not a lawyer then you're almost certainly going to cause problems for yourself by mistakenly copying the wrong pieces, or failing to copy the right ones. Think of those examples of English (often called "Engrish") written by people who didn't understand what they were writing. You're planning to do the same thing.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:22 AM on September 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Get a lawyer to do it for you. This has at least three advantages over doing it yourself: first, there is some chance he/she will do it correctly (sorry lawyers, it's true: I've seen many lawyers copy precedents wrongly) and even if he/she doesn't the result will probably be no worse than your own work; second, if anyone sues for breach of copyright it won't be you getting sued; third, if he/she gets it wrong you may be able to sue him/her.

Lawyers copy precedents from each other all the time, to the point where it was a standing joke when I was in private practice (admittedly a long time ago).
posted by Logophiliac at 2:43 PM on September 4, 2010

Depending on what it is, you get a lawyer to draft sample docs for you or you may be able to purchase through a vendor that sells them (ex: a standard lease). You should probably still get a lawyer so you can actually understand what you're having people sign. I saw a lot of things done wrong when I worked for a state agency that received legal forms filled out by small business owners (or their CPAs).
posted by elpea at 3:05 PM on September 4, 2010

There's stealing someone's document and then there is using the same boilerplate text that everyone else uses. There are books of this stuff out there, so one has to assume there are web sites as well.

If this is for a business, it's probably worth getting a lawyer to do it for all the reasons everyone else has cited, particularly abigredchair and Logophiliac.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:56 PM on September 4, 2010

It does depend somewhat on your business. For many types of businesses there are packages of standard legal documents (like leases or demand letters) that you can purchase for $25 or so. Adams is one such vendor you can find at Staples or Office Depot. I would see whether something like this would meet your needs before embarking on creating my own custom documents.
posted by dhartung at 6:26 PM on September 4, 2010

Contracts can indeed be copyrightable. Large scale construction/engineering projects are very often formed using a FIDIC (Federation Internationale des Inginieurs-Conseils) contract, and FIDIC is *extremely* protective of their work. Their terms of use require that you use the exact form they give you with NO modifications whatsoever; specifics (price, parties, etc.) are to be included in a short-form document drafted by the parties, and for which FIDIC provides the instructions.
posted by holterbarbour at 11:47 PM on September 9, 2010

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