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Blank forms

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U.S. copyright law Edit

The blank forms rule, first articulated in Baker v. Selden,[1] is codified at 37 C.F.R. § 202.1(c), which provides that “[b]lank forms, such as time cards, graph paper, account books, diaries, bank checks, scorecards, address books, report forms, order forms and the like, which are designed for recording information and do not in themselves convey information” are not subject to copyright protection. Section 202.1(c) of C.F.R. Title 37 has been upheld by the courts.[2]

However, when the forms convey information in a creative manner, e.g., when blank forms are accompanied by instructions that result in a unique and integrated work, the product is entitled to some copyright protection, although such protection is limited to the original elements of the work.[3] In Bibbero Systems, Inc. v. Colwell Systems, Inc.,[4] the defendant developed nearly identical medical "superbills" for use in obtaining reimbursement from insurance companies. The court found that:

the purpose of plaintiff Bibbero's superbill is to record information . . . . The superbill is simply a blank form that gives doctors a convenient method for recording services performed. The fact that there is a great deal of printing on the face of the form — because there are many possible diagnosis and treatments — does not make the form any less blank.[5]

Application to Computer Screens Edit

Computer screens designed primarily to record information require the same analysis as any other form in determining whether they themselves convey sufficient information to be copyrightable, or merely serve as a medium to record information. The fact that a blank form appears on a computer screen, rather than on a sheet of paper, does not alter the analysis.

Copyright Registration of Computer Screens Edit

Where computer screens are submitted as separate works, the Copyright Office applies the same long-established examining practices used with blank forms. The pertinent regulation states that blank forms, such as time cards, graph paper, account books, report forms, order forms, and the like, which are designed for recording information and do not in themselves convey information, are not subject to copyright, and the Copyright Office will not register such works.

However, forms that convey information may be protected. This includes screen displays of such forms, since screens are judged by traditional standards of copyrightability.

References Edit

  1. 101 U.S. 99 (1879)(full-text).
  2. Brown Instrument Co. v. Warner, 161 F.2d 910 (D.C. Cir. 1947) (full-text), cert. denied, 332 U.S. 801 (1947); Safeguard Bus. Sys., Inc. v. Reynolds & Reynolds Co., 1990 WL 39259, 14 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1829 (E.D. Pa. 1990), aff'd without opinion, 919 F.2d 136 (3d Cir. 1990).
  3. Bibbero Sys., Inc. v. Colwell Sys., Inc., 893 F.2d 1104, 1108 (9th Cir. 1990) (full-text).
  4. Id.
  5. Id. at 1106-07.

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