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Legal to Use Someone Else's Contract?

By Cynthia Hsu, Esq. on November 10, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Entrepreneurs and small business owners often run into problems when starting a business. One issue that constantly crops up is getting all the required legal documentation in order. So, are contracts copyrighted? Is using someone else's contract legal?

After all, it would be so much easier to use someone else's contract. Hiring an attorney to draft agreements for you would be costly.

And small businesses are acutely aware of how important it is to keep costs lowered. So is it okay to use contracts you find on the web? And should you?

Copyright protection extends to all works that are "original" and "fixed" in a tangible form of expression. Traditionally, most people think only works like music, art or books can be copyrighted. But legally speaking, contracts can be subject to copyright protection as well. So if you lift someone's contract word-by-word without their permission, you could be violating the law.

That doesn't mean you can't use someone else's contract as a base for your own. If you take someone's contract and tweak it so that it's "yours" using your own creativity, you could escape copyright liability.

Using Someone Else's Contract May Come Back to Bite You

Of course, just because you can use someone else's contract doesn't mean that you should. One of the reasons why people hire attorneys to draft contracts is to ensure the contract or agreement does exactly what you want it to.

And, there is no guarantee that a contract you find online will hold up in court. It's possible that whoever drafted it was sloppy and left loopholes.

So there you have it: it's possible that contracts can be copyrighted. But that doesn't mean you can't use contracts as an inspiration to help you build you own. Just make sure it's a good one.

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