The Facts About “Do Not Duplicate” Keys

Anyone Can Put “Do Not Duplicate” On a Key

Do Not Duplicate Key on Keyring On Wood Table | Lock N MoreDid you ever get a key that was stamped with the words do not duplicate? Did you feel more secure? Maybe you shouldn’t have! Anyone can stamp any key with “do not duplicate” or similar words. These words alone don’t stop a locksmith or hardware store from copying the key, nor do they signify a higher-quality lock.

You Can Copy Many “Do Not Duplicate”

There is no law preventing anyone from labeling ordinary keys with the words “do not duplicate.” So don’t automatically assume that locksmiths or hardware stores can’t or won’t copy those keys. It’s confusing, because there are manufacturers that restrict their keys to prevent unauthorized copies. However, you need to know for sure that your key is in that category. If it isn’t, then the words “do not duplicate” don’t represent any real key control system.

Then Why Label the Key “Do Not Duplicate?”

Some people put the words “Do Not Duplicate” or “Do Not Copy” on their keys to discourage unauthorized duplication. It’s a message to locksmiths that unauthorized copies of these keys pose a security problem. They don’t have locks with real key control, and they want to stop unauthorized people from making copies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work.

Many people will try to get copies of keys that say “do not duplicate.” And. while there are locksmiths or hardware stores that won’t copy these keys, there are also plenty of others that will, so this is an ineffective method of key control. It is also misleading to the many consumers. This is so true, that the Associated Locksmiths of America (ALOA) has issued the following statement:

“Do Not Duplicate Keys: Orders for keys stamped “Do Not Duplicate” or similar wording will be handled in the same manner as any unrestricted key.* ALOA members should inform the consumer that the use of keys stamped “Do Not Duplicate” or similar wording, is not effective security, and further that the use of such words is deceptive because it provides a false sense of security. Consumers who desire effective security should purchase a patented key control system rather than rely on a “Do Not Duplicate” marking. This does not apply to keys protected by law.”

What are Restricted Keys?

There are some manufacturers that do attempt to control who copies their keys. These keys have specific, unique design features, and the key blanks are not available everywhere. And, some of these keys require special proprietary machinery in order to copy them. There are three levels basic levels of control, and each level offers a little more protection.

Lower Level Restricted Keys

The first level restricts key blank distribution to authorized dealers. These dealers have contracts with the lock manufacturers that spell out the key duplication standards. For example, some manufacturers require dealers to keep signature files when they sell a lock. When owners want additional keys, they must go back to that dealer and show proof of their identity. Other manufacturers issue signed authorization cards to lock buyers. They must show the cards to get duplicate keys. The entire system is based on limiting access to the tools required to copy the key. Therefore, if an unauthorized person gets a key blank, it is not illegal or hard to make a copy.

Middle Level Restricted Keys

The second level also depends on only distributing key blanks to authorized dealers. However, at this level, the key designs are protected by utility patents or Intellectual Property (IP) rights. As wth any patent, only the patent-holder can manufacture or copy the key blanks. Anyone who makes unauthorized copies of these keys can be fined $10,000. One must also show some proof of identity to get key copies at this level.

Higher Level Restricted Keys

The third, and highest, level restricts key copying to a central location, such as the lock company’s factory. The company does not send key blanks to anyone, so it keeps tight control over copies. The manufacturer keeps records of lock ownership, and to get a copy of one of these keys, you must directly contact the factory and prove your identity. The $10,000 fine also applies to people who make unauthorized copies.

Of course, nothing is 100% effective. Restricted keys that have real controls are in place to monitor duplication, do act as an effective security measure by making it much harder to copy the key. However, that only applies to truly restricted keys. It is important to remember that it is not the words “do not duplicate” that make a restricted key, it is the measures in place to prevent it from being copied that provide the security.

Restricted Keys Come with Better Locks

One by-product of manufacturer-restricted keys is that they generally only come with better locks. So, you are not just getting additional protection against unauthorized copies of the keys. You are also getting more protection at the door itself with a higher-quality lock. All this protection comes at a price, but remember that your home or business contains important people or valuable possessions, so it is a small price to pay.

Everyone has different circumstances and needs, and it can be difficult to know what level of lock and key control is right for your situation. It is helpful to consult with a locksmith professional before making any decision or investing any money. This will help ensure you get all the security you are looking for!

* emphasis added by the author of this article.