Hard copy

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In information handling, the U.S. Federal Standard 1037C (Glossary of Telecommunication Terms) defines a hard copy is a permanent reproduction, or copy, in the form of a physical object, of any media suitable for direct use by a person (in particular paper), of displayed or transmitted data. Examples of hard copy include teleprinter pages, continuous printed tapes, computer printouts, and radio photo prints. On the other hand, physical objects such as magnetic tapes diskettes, or non-printed punched paper tapes are not defined as hard copy by 1037C.[1]

A file which can be viewed on a screen without printing it out is sometimes called a soft copy.[2][3] The U.S. Federal Standard 1037C defines "soft copy" as "a nonpermanent display image, for example, a cathode ray tube display."[4]

The term "hard copy" predates the age of the digital computer. In the process of producing printed books and newspapers, hard copy refers to a manuscript or typewritten document that has been edited and proofread, and is ready for typesetting, or being read on-air in a radio or television broadcast. This traditional meaning has been all but forgotten in the wake of the information revolution.[5]

"Dead-tree" dysphemism[edit]

The hacker's Jargon File defines a dead-tree version to be a paper version of an on-line document, where "dead trees" refer to paper.[6] It is a dysphemism for hard copy. Variations include dead-tree format and dead-tree-ware.[citation needed]

A saying from the Jargon File is that "You can't grep dead trees",[7] from the Unix command grep meaning to search the contents of text files. This means that an advantage of keeping documents in digital form rather than on paper is that they can be more easily searched for specific contents. A yet another usage of this imagery, cited in Jargon File is "tree-killer" , which may refer either to a printer or a person who wastes paper, for example marketing people who generate lots of "content-free" documentation.[8]

Dead-tree edition refers to a printed paper version of a written work, as opposed to digital alternatives such as a web page.[citation needed] Newspapers are, sometimes pejoratively, referred to as the dead-tree-press.[citation needed]

For example, blog of The Guardian on 29 November 2006 wrote: "Maybe this is more a multimedia victory for Jeff Randall himself: he did manage a dead-tree front page, web scoop, vodcast and major plug on the 10 O'clock news."[9]


  1. ^ Hard copy as defined in Federal Standard 1037C.
  2. ^ "Soft Copy". Collins English Dictionary. 
  3. ^ "Soft Copy". dictionary.com. 
  4. ^ "Soft copy", as defined in Federal Standard 1037C.
  5. ^ hard copy as defined by Merriam-Webster Online.
  6. ^ jargon File, article "dead-tree verison"
  7. ^ Jargon File, article "Documentation"
  8. ^ Jargon File, article "tree-killer"
  9. ^ Kiss, Jemima (28 November 2006). "A cross-platform victory for Jeff Randall". Guardian. 

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from the General Services Administration document "Federal Standard 1037C" (in support of MIL-STD-188).