Claiming Copyright in a Legal Document
I was presented with an interesting question today: Can someone claim copyright in a legal document, such as a contract for sale?
My first inclination was to say “no,” based on the idea that a contract is really a compendium of facts (lacking much creativity), and the necessary merger between idea (I want this term in the contract) and expression (here’s the term). But then I thought perhaps one could claim that either the language they used, or the particular arrangement of clauses, could be the basis of creative expression in the document. In the end, I decided that for what is, essentially, a standard form contract, there would be little (i.e. “thin”) or no protection of the words.
Intrigued, and wanting to know if I was on the right track, I did a little Web surfing. I found two good posts on the subject, one of them being from someone with whom I’ve had correspondence in the past.
Here, at the Invent Blog, Stephen Nipper raises essentially the same question I had. I’m not sure what Stephen concludes, but he does link to a nice explanation and discussion of the issues at AdamsDrafting. Ken Adams appears to reach the same conclusion I did, which is that there’s possible protection, but it would require more novelty than is present in most (almost all?) contracts.
If you have any thoughts on the subject, please let me know. I haven’t been able to find any on-point case law.