313.4 (G) Blank Forms
Blank forms that are designed for recording information and do not in themselves convey information are not copyrightable. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (C). Likewise, the copyright law does not protect the ideas or principles behind a blank form, the systems or methods implemented by a form, or any functional layout, coloring, or design that facilitates the use of a form. See Baker v. Selden, 101 U.S. 99 (1879).
Blank forms typically contain empty fields or lined spaces, as well as words or short phrases that identify the content that should be recorded in each field or space.
Examples include, without limitation, time cards, graph paper, account books, diaries, bank checks, scorecards, address books, report forms, order forms, and the like. 37 C.F.R. § 202.1 (C).
As a general rule, the Office will register a work of authorship that contains an appreciable amount of written or artistic expression, even if it contains a blank form that is designed for recording information. For example, bank checks may be registered if they contain sufficient pictorial authorship that decorates the form. Likewise, contracts, insurance policies, and other textual documents with “fill-in” spaces may be registered if they contain a sufficient amount of expressive, literary authorship that is not standard or functional. However, the mere inclusion of a large number of terms on a blank form may not satisfy the originality requirement if those terms are part of a system for recording information, such as a medical diagnostic form. See 17 U.S.C. § 102 (B).
When examining these types of works, the Office applies “a standard consistent with that applied to all works submitted for registration: does the work evidence an appreciable quantum of original, creative expression?” See Registration of Claims to Copyright: Notice of Termination of Inquiry Regarding Blank Forms, 45 Fed. Reg. 63,297 (Sept. 24, 1980). In applying this standard, the Office focuses on the textual or pictorial expression that the author contributed to the work. In other words, does the form qualify as a literary work, a pictorial work, or a work that contains an original combination of literary and pictorial expression? If so, the Office will register the claim. In all cases, the registration covers only the original textual or pictorial expression that the author contributed to the work, but does not cover the blank form or other uncopyrightable elements that the form may contain.
The Office cannot register the empty fields or lined spaces in a blank form. Likewise, the Office cannot register the words, short phrases, or other de minimis text that appears in the headings for a blank form, even if the applicant attempts to register the work as a compilation of uncopyrightable material. As discussed in Section 307, a compilation is a subset of the subject matter categories listed in Section 102 (A) of the Copyright Act, rather than a separate and distinct category of authorship. In other words, a compilation may be registered, provided that the work as a whole falls within one or more of the congressionally established categories of authorship. A blank form that merely contains words, short phrases, or a de minimis amount of text does not satisfy this requirement because it does not qualify as a literary work, a pictorial work, a graphic work, or any of the other categories of works listed in Section 102 (A). Cf. Registration of Claims to Copyright, 77 Fed. Reg. 37,605, 37,607 (June 22, 2012).
If a blank form poses an extensive number of questions or contains an exhaustive checklist of information, the registration specialist may communicate with the applicant or may refuse registration if it appears that the applicant is asserting a claim in the ideas, principles, systems, or methods implemented by the form.