What are the copyright implications of posting a contract online?
July 26, 2007 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Is it legal to post a contract online?

I used to work in an industry in which phone personnel are trained to be less than forthcoming with contractual terms to potential clients. In addition, contracts aren’t sent out to clients without a plethora of personal information from the potential clients. This has inspired me to try and acquire and compare the terms from various firms in this industry, with the intention of creating a website that will provide comparisons between them and discuss the negative implications of using one of these services. I honestly believe this would be a great public service.

Can I post actual copies of contracts on a website? Barring that, is it legal to “summarize” a contract on a website? Are their pertinent copyright issues I should be aware of?

Comments or questions to: contractquestion@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total)
It may not be legal for you to post the contracts online, depending on what competitive and contractual obligations you took on as an employee of the company and in the course of doing your job.

Assuming you're in the US, and assuming the contract's release has not been barred by a judge, it is legal for people not bound to keep the contract private online. Freedom of speech and the press and all that extends to publication of legal materials.

(I am definitely not a lawyer, though, and am the last person you should turn to for legal advice, which this is not.)
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:35 PM on July 26, 2007

There should be absolutely no "copyright" issues with this per se. You can not, as far as I know, copyright a legal document.

There might, however, be contractual issues. If you are a party to the contract, the terms of the contract might bar you from discussing it. If you were an employee in this industry, you might be barred from distributing anything that came in to your posession during your employment, by the terms of your employment contract.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:47 PM on July 26, 2007


Croutons mostly has it right. There may be a question whether a third party without confidentiality obligations to whom confidential information was leaked by a party having such obligations can be prevented from disclosing that information. This is an open question and has been resolved differently depending on the contexts and jurisdictions in which it has arisen.

You can not, as far as I know, copyright a legal document.

This is wrong. Sure you can, and it happens automatically whenever anyone creates one. However, the type of usage described here might be considered fair use (depending on the nature of the use), and it probably would not be a violation of the copyright to simply summarize or paraphrase such a copyrighted document.
posted by jcwagner at 2:08 PM on July 26, 2007

I agree, you can certainly copyright a contract, and you might have a good argument for fair use, but whether you would succeed is by no means clear. The real problem is that if you are using these contracts in a way that hurts their owners, such as pointing out how unfair certain provisions are, those owners will be motivated to stop you. This might include sending a a takedown notice to your ISP. It might include litigation. Uggghh. If you instead just create tables of items which are or are not included in various contracts, without using their exact language, then it will be harder for the contract owners to claim copyright infringement. Any copyright in the contract itself is limited to the expression, the particular way in which it is worded, and does not extend to the underlying facts, such as "x" is prohibited.
posted by caddis at 2:35 PM on July 26, 2007

Croutons mostly has it right.

My name is Crouton. Crouton Supafreak. Not Croutons Up *anything* (?!!?)
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:20 PM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

A contract is covered by copyright and you would not have a "fair use" argument. That said, as these are "contracts of adhesion" which the courts look very poorly upon ... and you could always host it overseas ... like on a webhost in europe somewhere ... you could work out some way to do it.
posted by jannw at 5:29 AM on July 27, 2007

This is not a good idea for a whole host of reasons that I'm not going to go into. It's just a bad idea.

Also providing advice on which contract people should choose based on legal terms and conditions, you are pretty much providing legal advice which is dangerous if you are licensed to practice law or not.

Don't do it.
posted by dios at 8:03 AM on July 27, 2007

Croutons mostly has it right.

My name is Crouton. Crouton Supafreak. Not Croutons Up *anything* (?!!?)
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:20 PM on July 27 [1 favorite +] [!]

Sorry, but I just have to point out that is one of the funniest things I've read. Well played sir, well played indeed.

Oh, and to the question, dios has hit the nail on the head. The issue goes further than if contracts are under copyright. You might want to look into a way to discuss the issue without going into specific contracts or making advice.
posted by qwip at 5:20 PM on July 27, 2007

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