Does your attitude to copying depend on whether it’s something low value like a knock off branded drink or your own hard work? Before you saw the value in a unique contract, did you ever ask someone else for a copy of theirs so you could copy it/be inspired by it/steal ideas with pride?
Tackle Licensing Copyright
I have read contracts that were copied. They are like a bag of pick and mix sweets… with everything but the weirdest items (in my case liquorice) included, yet missing some of the key ingredients. These contracts may be a cut and shut… like the infamous pizza/ferry company during the Brexit fiasco. Copied contracts don’t sell your business and what’s unique about you.
But copying someone else’s contract is not just bad for your business, it’s bad legally. Someone owns the copyright in that document – even legal documents acquire rights to prevent others from copying or sharing it without the author’s permission. Copying that contract puts you in breach of copyright, and the owner can take action and send you a ‘cease and desist’ letter.
The problem is that copyright or other ‘intellectual property’ rights are intangible and we find it much easier to consider ownership of tangible items. For example, I own my home, including its porch. The architect who did the designs for our porch owns copyright in those drawings and licensed my builder to use the drawings for constructing the porch. If my neighbour takes a photo of my porch, John owns copyright in that photo but has no rights over the porch or the drawings. If Carole takes a photo of the drawings, she is in breach of the architect’s copyright, as that is copying.
Before you share your expertise with a client, you should clarify who owns/who has a license to use the documents, resources, materials and works, whether they are being created jointly or independently. Your contract should cover this – even if you are working for free! The options for licensing are many (free/paid, exclusive/non-exclusive, perpetual/time restricted) so get advice before you decide. Go to gov.uk if you need to know more.
There are implied licences for copyright, but these tend to be very restrictive.
My talk from 2020 explains how your contract can get you to yes quickly, and will remind you of the pizza terms fiasco: