Open sourcing legal docs for small business

Docracy features free legal doc library, negotiated e-signing.

Open source is one of the concepts that has taken off in a variety of implementations: hardware, cars, and… legal documents?

Sure, why not? Docracy, is a start-up that provides free, open-source legal documents to individuals and companies that need them, as well as a framework on which legal agreements can be negotiated and signed electronically.

As a freelance writer, I have used e-signing services myself to get contracts signed so I can get paid. So far, everything has all worked well, in the sense that I am getting paid. But I also wonder how well such electronic signatures would actually stand up in court should I or one of my vendors decide to get squirrelly?

Docracy is working to introduce more transparency into the e-signing process, using a new Super Signing feature that enables users to privately negotiate and sign any legal document from their Docracy account. Super Signing's collaborative tool provides version control, redlining, and messaging.

"We didn't start Docracy just to be another signing service," said CEO and co-founder Matt Hall in a press statement. "We designed it to be a reset of the way people come to agreement, a natural next step from the openness and transparency of our growing library to the signing and negotiation of documents."

That library is the open source center of Docracy's value add. The free library gives anyone a starting point to start drawing up documents for the legal situation they find themselves in. But is this safe?

Open source legal documents don't have a legal problem per se, explained Veronica Picciafuoco, Director of Content, Partnerships & Community at Docracy. "It's unlikely that legal forms are even covered by copyright in the first place.

"The core difference is between publishing standard documents and giving legal advice. Legal advice (i.e., the customization of that doc to your particular needs and situation) can only be given by a lawyer, by law. That's why we have a legal disclaimer in the footer to protect us from people modifying documents the wrong way and then blaming Docracy or one of the contributors. Of course, the fact that our documents are free and publicly available/editable helps a lot (in comparison to services like LegalZoom, for example)," Picciafuoco added.

The real beneficiaries of this kind of service will be small businesses and private contractors who could use a little legal documentation without the cost of lawyers for relatively straightforward contracts.

Content production in open source circles is nothing new, but it's cool to see a company like Docracy integrate it into a business model that will serve the public good.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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