Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bank check copyrights

Dear Rich: I have a question. I was at my bank to deposit a check from a mutual fund. I requested the bank make a photocopy of the check for my personal records. They refused, saying that it would be a copyright violation. Is that correct? If that is true, are they in violation of copyright laws by providing images of my canceled checks with my statements? I'm so glad you asked. The  short answer to both your questions is, "No." The Dear Rich staff was upset to learn of your treatment. Copyright law (37 C.F.R. Sec 202.1(c)) does not protect blank forms, a rule that's consistently enforced by the courts. The underlying principle -- according to the Supreme Court -- is that these forms do not convey information but merely serve as "repositories to structure the recording of information." It's possible that some blank checks may include copyrighted imagery -- for example, photos of sunsets or animals. In that case, the image may qualify for protection but a bank employee's copying of a specific check for a customer would definitely fall within the category of fair use. That's because the purpose is purely transformative -- the copy is being made to record the financial information, not to duplicate the imagery.