If I want to have a U.S. government tax form, like a W-9, be able to be filled out on my website, can I convert it to html (so that it looks as identical as possible to the original form), have the user fill it out, and then export the results to a pdf or image to submit to the IRS? Or does the thing that I submit to the IRS have to be a scan or physical copy of the pdf that the IRS provides?

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    Generally speaking, you should be VERY careful when submitting to the IRS other people's forms. I would recommend you talk to your lawyer and explain exactly what you intend to do. – Jack Fleeting Jun 4 '19 at 20:58
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    Just so you know "so that it looks as identical as possible to the original form" - HTML is notoriously terrible for standing in for a typesetting system. – whatsisname Jun 5 '19 at 5:08
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    @whatsisname I am curious what features of a W-9 cannot be replicated in html. All it has is some text, some borders, and two places with background color. Since it would not have to be responsive, I could measure out the exact distances between everything and absolute position everything. Would this not make it look indistinguishable, provided that I use a good reset.css script and the right font? Per the answer below, I am probably not going to go with this option anyway, but I'd still like to know. Are you saying the form would have weird letter spacing and/or line height? – kloddant Jun 5 '19 at 13:04
  • I actually think the best solution for me might be to render the form inside an html canvas as an image and then have the user be able to write text on top of the image and then combine the text and image when the user clicks the save button. That is probably what I'll go with. – kloddant Jun 5 '19 at 13:10
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    @kloddant: and the clients browsers will happily ignore those positioning, use client specified fonts, and your overall system won't be ADA complaint. It's a fools errand. You can however make an HTML form look similar, then use the entered data in a proper typesetting system to make PDFs of the forms. – whatsisname Jun 5 '19 at 13:59

There are no copyright restrictions, since tax forms are government works and statutorily not protected. The IRS in fact says that you can use a substantially identical form for W9, as long as you don't do certain things and do do other required things. You do not submit W-9 to the IRS, but they provide a document describing substitute tax forms. Basically, they say "The IRS accepts quality substitute tax forms that are consistent with the official forms and have no adverse impact on processing". You can't "just do it", without approval, but you might be able to get approval if your document follows the rules. If the output exactly reproduces the official form except for the parts which you must remove, then it would probably pass muster and it would not matter that the engine that you use is HTML. You can also remove the color screening -- read the rules to see what all is immutable vs. changeable.

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  • Okay, thanks! If I cannot "just do it" without approval, then I probably won't, but it is good to know that requesting approval is an option if I cannot think of a better solution to this problem. – kloddant Jun 5 '19 at 12:58
  • You probably do not need approval, quoted from the linked document (section 2.1.1) "If you produce any substitute tax forms that fully comply or follow the changes specifically outlined by the Program, then you can generate your own substitute forms without further approval. " – Justin Ohms Jun 5 '19 at 21:05
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    See also p2 of the W-9 instructions. Like the other forms you solicit from someone else (W-8 series and W-4 series), the 'declare under penalty of perjury' element must specify exactly the same content -- not less and not more (you can't use IRS as a 'lever' to demand things from your employees, customers, partners, etc). – dave_thompson_085 Jun 5 '19 at 23:19

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