Birth certificates are versatile legal documents used as original identification to obtain other forms of identification such as drivers licenses and passports. They can also be used for certain other legal purposes, such as establishing paternity in a custody proceeding although a birth certificate alone is normally not enough to conclusively establish paternity.
States differ on who is allowed to obtain an authorized copy of someone else's birth certificate. Georgia allows access only to the immediate family and some members of the extended family. California, on the other hand, allows adoption agencies, law enforcement personnel and estate executors (among others) to obtain authorized copies.
Many states such as California will provide an informational copy of a birth certificate--not valid for legal purposes--to certain parties not eligible to receive an authorized copy. An informational copy normally looks exactly the same as an authorized copy, except that "Informational Copy Only" is stamped across the front. Certain access restrictions apply even to informational copies.
Although birth certificate applications can be found online--generally at the website of the state's Department of Vital Records--an original signature is needed to complete the application. For this reason the application must be downloaded, printed and mailed to the appropriate state office along with an application fee and proof of the applicant's identity. Certain information is required, including the names of the applicant and the person named on the birth certificate, the county of birth and the parent's full names. If any of this information--except for the names of the applicant and the person whose birth certificate is being requested--is missing from the application, many states will attempt to process the application anyway while searching for the missing information, although an extra fee may be required.
Attempting to procure an authorized copy of a birth certificate by falsifying your identity or your relationship with the person whose birth certificate is being requested is a crime in every state, although penalties vary. In Georgia, for example, the maximum penalty is a fine of $10,000 and five years' imprisonment.