Before the days of digital documents, the standards regarding what was an original document and what was a copy were clear. When it came to the legal validity of a copy or fax, an institution had to determine if the electronic record was evidence of a contract and if the signatures within it served as proof of a contact’s acceptance. When fax machines rose in popularity, few legal courts and companies accepted facsimiles with signatures as “originals” until 1995. Today, electronically transmitted documents and faxes often suffice as proof of an agreement or at least serve as interim evidence until the original is made available. Whether a scanned or electronic document is as credible or valuable as the original depends on a business’s document management procedures and the document in question.
Best Practices for Scanned Documents
Establish Document Management Policies
Companies should establish document retention policies based on state and federal laws and industry-specific regulations. The policies should outline procedures regarding the scanning, digital storage and retrieval of documents. It should also state when “wet” signatures (signatures written by hand) are necessary and when electronic signatures are acceptable.
To establish chain of command and protect the integrity of electronic documents, it is a good idea to use document management software that records who accessed the saved files and keeps track of changes made to them while retaining the original versions.
Scan Original Documents
Scanned documents that are most likely to hold up in court are of hard copies that a company scans and stores electronically because they record handwriting. To add to a document’s credibility, a company should retain the original document since rules of evidence place the burden of proof on the party that loses the original document. Scanned documents are also more likely to be considered credible when companies have established document management policies.
The greatest issue with scanned, copied or faxed documents that contain signatures is proving that the party in question signed it if the original parties were not together at the time of signing. While modern technologies give scanned or copied documents more credibility, proof of evidence remains an issue. To give electronic copies more credibility, a company may require a party to sign a document in the presence of a notary public before submitting it.
Software that Allows for Electronic Signatures
To reduce paperwork or retrieve a signature from an individual at on off-site location, a company may use software and hardware that facilitates the electronic signing of documents. If a company chooses this option, it should have detailed procedures that establish a signature’s authenticity, such as the use of a password.
Hard Copies to Retain
While the courts deem some types of scanned documents and contracts as credible, there are instances in which a company should retain original copies. Such documents include:
- Original contracts
- Employee contracts
- Severance agreements
- Non-compete agreements
- Contracts with third parties
- Financial documents
The Bottom Line
The credibility and value of documents that are scanned, submitted electronically, faxed or copied depends on the document in question and the institution requesting its submission. A scanned copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s handwritten manuscript of The Great Gatsby, for example, will not have the same financial value as the original. Conversely, a company may consider a signed contract that an individual submits electronically to be as authentic and credible as the original hard copy. If there is doubt regarding the legality or legitimacy of an electronic document, it’s best to address such concerns with the other party and consult with an attorney before entering into a binding agreement.
When a client requires Polygon’s document recovery services after a disaster, they have the option of having their documents scanned. For some, scanning offers a sufficient and efficient way to recover damaged documents. Others request scanning and document restoration services, particularly if they want access to the information in a document and need the original restored. When you participate in Polygon’s Code Blue program, a specialist will help you determine your document restoration needs in advance to ensure you company’s vital files do not hinder continuity efforts after a disaster. Talk to a specialist today to learn more about integrating document restoration into your disaster recovery plans.