Article

Stolen Any Good Forms Lately?

September 2009, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Thomas B. Hudson, Esq. - Also by this author


“Hey, Boss, we’re about out of Buyers Orders. Want me to order some more?”

“No. Why should we pay ABC Forms Company 58 cents a form for those things? My brother-in-law says he knows a printer who’ll run them off for us for 12 cents each. Give me a copy of one of the ones you have left, and I’ll get us a bunch made.”

Based on the dealership compliance audits we do, a conversation like this takes place pretty frequently at dealerships. After all, everyone is squeezed for profits, and dealers are cutting expenses everywhere possible, so why not have your forms locally printed or, better yet, simply run a few of them off on the copier whenever you run low?

Well, Bunkie, you might want to hold off on that order. “How come?” you ask. Here’s the problem.

Chances are the form is copyrighted. If it is, it will likely have a small “c” in a circle, and perhaps the word “copyrighted” on it someplace. That means someone owns the content of that form. That means you can’t simply use that content without permission any more than you can use someone else’s car without permission. The form and its presentation – the way it is arranged – are someone’s “intellectual property.” Using it without permission can expose you to a lawsuit.

It is even possible that parts of the form, like the location of the spaces on the form where data is entered, are patented. Yup, you heard that right. Patented.

Maybe your response to this is, “So what? I’ll use the form until the form’s owner threatens me with a lawsuit, then I’ll quit. Chances are that will never happen, and look at all the money I’ll save.”

You might save a few bucks, but think for a moment what you’re doing. You are taking a form that someone has spent literally thousands of dollars developing and more thousands of dollars maintaining as the federal and state laws and regulations that affect the content of the form change, and you are adopting it as your own. Unless you intend to start spending the thousands of dollars per year necessary to pay lawyers to monitor law and regulation changes and modify the form as required, you’ve just guaranteed yourself a noncompliant form the first time that the laws or regulations change.

What you are getting when you spend the 58 cents per form (or whatever the “per form” price might be) to buy from a reputable forms company is confidence that the form has been correctly drafted to comply with state and federal law and the continued compliance maintenance that the forms company has to put into the forms.

The potential penalties for violating the many laws and regulations that dealers are subject to can be very severe, but the potential risk doesn’t stop there. Customers who sue based on forms violations can recover actual damages and in some cases multiples of actual damages, punitive damages and legal fees.

Kinda makes that 58 cents a form seem cheap, doesn’t it?

Vol. 6, Issue 9


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