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I would like to make my own contract without having to pay a lawyer. Some websites, such as Docracy, explicitly say that you're allowed to use their contracts. I'm wondering, if you were to come across some random contract with a specific wording you really like for some common clause - like a severalbility clause - can you copy it or would that be infringing?

For example, say I already have my own contract. Can I see the no waiver clause on reddit.com and say, hey I like that, I'm adding it to mine!

If we do not enforce any right or provision in this user agreement, that is not to be deemed a waiver of our right to do so in the future.

  • Copyright applies to words, not ideas. So, you can use ideas you find on the web, just do not lift the words (afaik). – user3270 Dec 4 '17 at 14:38
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Anything written that included a minimum of creativity is copyrighted unless someone explicitely put it in the public domain, or if the author has died many years ago. Contracts are protected by copyright, just like anything written. The waiver you quoted would involve creativity. Something like "I, Joe Smith, sell my car for $10,000 to James Miller" might be judged to involve no creativity (Ok, me writing this was creative. Writing it if your name is Joe Smith and you are selling your car for $10,000 to James Miller doesn't involve creativity).

Obviously if you and someone else both sign a contract, you are both bound by the terms of the contract. If you committed copyright infringement using the contract has nothing to do with legality of the contract. The lawyer whose copyright you are infringing can sue you for copyright infringement, but the contract is still valid.

Fun fact: The GPL, which is used by millions to allow software to be copied within some framework, is itself copyrighted, and that copyright will be strictly enforced if you make any changes to the text of the license. The obvious reason is that the authors don't want anyone to be tricked into accepting a license that they think is the GPL but is critically modified.

  • What I don't get is this. There are thousands of no-waiver clauses in existence, and most essentially say the same thing. It's not like each lawyer came up with the idea themselves, so how is that not copyright infringement? For example I bet I can find another website with the same no-waiver as Reddit's, does that mean they can be sued for copyright infringement? – bigbox151 Dec 3 '17 at 1:34
  • @bigbox151 If there are only a limited number of ways to express something, the so-called merger doctrine may apply. It is possible that a sentence about a particular thing (e.g. a no-waiver clause) of some maximum length can only be reasonably expressed so many different ways. – Brandin Dec 5 '17 at 7:45
  • @bigbox151 There is also scènes à faire; if indeed every no-waiver clause has a particular standard wording, then that example may not be an infringement. See Do I need permission to reimplement application programming interface calls/classes? – Brandin Dec 5 '17 at 7:49

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