Can Terms and Conditions Be Copyrighted (No, But Do This Instead)

When talking about copyright protection, terms and conditions may not be the first thought that comes to mind. Many think that they are generic documents that do not have their own unique characteristics and are not protected by law.

With each business putting its own spin on the legal document and tailoring it to its specific needs, does that in turn make them original work and subject to copyright protection? You’re about to find out!

In this article, I will be sharing everything you need to know about copyrighting your terms and conditions, and how to protect your legal policies from copycats.

  • Terms & conditions aren’t copyrightable, but aspects may be protected by trademark or trade secret laws.
  • Prevent copying by adding a copyright notice, or unique identifier, or using custom contracts.
  • Use generators for custom, unique contracts; address sector-specific provisions, data usage, & additional terms.

PRO TIP: Don’t waste your time and take the guesswork out of the legal jargon with this personalized terms and conditions generator trusted by over 150,000 businesses.

Can Terms and Conditions Be Copyrighted?

No, unfortunately, terms and conditions cannot be copyrighted. Copyright law protects original works of authorship, such as books, music, and software, but it does not protect mere facts, ideas, or procedures.

Terms and conditions are typically written in a straightforward and standardized manner, with little room for creative expression. As such, they are not considered to be original works of authorship and do not qualify for copyright protection.

However, some aspects of terms and conditions may be protected by other forms of intellectual property law, such as trademark law or trade secret law.

For example, if your terms and conditions include a unique logo or slogan, those elements may be protected by trademark law.

Additionally, if it contains confidential information, such as proprietary business processes or customer data, those aspects may be protected by trade secret law.

What if Someone Copies Your Terms and Conditions?

Sadly, there are unethical individuals out there who may try to steal your carefully crafted policies for their own gain. This can be not only frustrating but also harmful to your business, as it can lead to confusion and potential legal issues down the line.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to safeguard your terms and conditions from being copied.

One approach is to make it clear on your website that regulations are protected by copyright law, and that any unauthorized use is strictly prohibited.

The second option as a preventive measure is to include a unique identifier, such as a watermark or digital signature, on your policies to make it more difficult for others to pass them off as their own.

Digital signature showing details of the printed document.

However, if you find out someone has copied your contracts, you definitely still have possibilities to protect your business.

Firstly, you can send a cease and desist letter demanding that they remove the stolen content.

Secondly, you can take legal action against the copycat.

The best approach to avoid your terms being copied is prevention. So let’s talk about how you can protect your terms and conditions from being copied in the first place.

How to Protect Your Terms and Conditions From Being Copied?

It’s important to take some proactive steps to guard your policies against copycats. Here are a few things you can do to protect your online contract:

Add a Copyright Notice

Adding a copyright notice to your rules page is a simple yet effective way to protect your legal agreements. By including a clear and visible notice, you can let others know that your regulations are protected by copyright law and cannot be copied without your permission.

This will act as a deterrent to anyone who may be considering copying your work for their own purposes.

To add this notice to your policy page, simply include a statement such as “Copyright © [year] [your company name]. All rights reserved.” at the bottom of the page. Such as here.

© 2023 noon. All rights reserve.

You may also consider adding a notice that explicitly states that your agreements cannot be reproduced, distributed, or used without your prior written consent.

Remember, adding this statement is not a foolproof way to prevent imitators, but it can certainly help in discouraging them from plagiarizing your work. Which was the choice made by IBM.

General clause in IBM terms of use.

Do Not Use a Generic Template

Using a generic terms and conditions template can have major consequences for your business due to the lack of uniqueness. The agreement needs to address your specific business model and how you operate it.

While using a template is perfectly fine if you tailor it to your needs, you need to be mindful of laws and regulations as well. If you get them wrong, it may even void your policy altogether.

A much better solution would be using a generator to create custom terms that fit your needs. These online tools are designed to make the process of creating legal agreements easy and straightforward.

Not only do they save you time and effort, but they also provide you with peace of mind knowing that your terms are accurate and legally compliant.

And since the documents are put together based on your specific answers, chances are they won’t apply to others so there’ll be less likelihood of someone wanting to copy them.

ALSO READ: Who Can Write the Terms and Conditions for My Website?

Make It Uniquely Yours

If your terms and conditions are written in a way that addresses all of your business needs and maintains your brand voice, then it would make it even more difficult for copycats to plagiarize your agreement as is.

Here are a few things that can lead to one-of-a-kind terms and conditions:

Include sector-specific provisions

Every business whether operating in e-commerce, healthcare, legal industries, etc. Has their own individualized relationship with their customers that need to be clearly outlined in a terms and conditions agreement. Take a look at HCA Healthcare’s provision here regarding their use of services.

User of services, no medical advice clause in HCA Healthcare terms of use.

Data usage

The way you share and manage the data of your consumers is also very specific depending on your business and your desired relationship with your customers. As is the case with Shopify’s feedback and reviews clause here.

Feedback and reviews clause in Shopify terms of service.

Additional terms

Many businesses in their own interpretation of a terms and conditions agreement, will include extra or additional terms that most likely can only work for them and how they operate their business like in Goto’s case:

Free services and trials, and third party services clauses in GoTo terms of service.

In conclusion, prevention is key – take proactive steps to protect your terms and conditions before someone copies them.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I protect my terms and conditions from being copied?

Prevent copying by adding a copyright notice, using a unique identifier, creating custom contracts, and addressing sector-specific provisions, data usage, and additional terms.

Can I include a copyright notice even if the terms and conditions can’t be copyrighted?

Yes, you can include a copyright notice as a deterrent to discourage potential copycats, making it clear that unauthorized use of your legal agreements is prohibited, even though terms and conditions themselves are not technically copyrightable.

What should I do if someone copies my terms and conditions?

You can send a cease and desist letter demanding the removal of stolen content, or take legal action against the copycat.

Is using a generic terms and conditions template a good idea?

Using a generic template can have negative consequences if not tailored to your needs. It’s better to use a professional generator for custom, unique contracts that are also legally compliant.

Joao Vitor Sales, CIPP/E, CIPM, GRCP, OneTrust Fellow

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Joao is a privacy professional with a unique skill set and certifications that encompass legal, cybersecurity, and technical expertise. Having worked with companies of all sizes, from startups to Fortune 500 corporations, he’s dedicated to helping individuals and businesses navigate the ever-changing landscape of technology and privacy laws including HIPAA, PIPEDA, GDPR, CCPA, POPIA, LGPD, ePrivacy Directive, and more.