How to Be Sure Your Startup’s Website is Legal

With all of the do-it-yourself website software out there, many people overlook the legal aspect of making sure that they are in compliance with any state or federal regulations governing internet use. There are many things that business owners don’t even think of before they dive in, and we’re going to help you dissect and sort through a number of those issues so that you’ve got yourself covered in case of problems that may arise down the line. While much of this isn’t required by law, protecting your business interests isn’t just a good idea; it’s a necessity for succeeding. Consider contacting a lawyer if any of this seems like too much.

Terms and Conditions

It doesn’t matter if it’s online gaming, e-commerce, or a discussion forum, it seems like just about every website that you interact with has a terms and conditions page that you have to scroll through before you can use it. While most people don’t actually read through them, and it might seem like a waste of time, remember that the Terms and Conditions are there to protect you and your business in case of a dissatisfied user or technical malfunction. Don’t be surprised if this seems overwhelming at first. After all, you didn’t go to law school; how should you know what any of this stuff means. For basic websites that advertise products or services, you can use a “terms and conditions generator,” which will ask you a series of questions, and then generate a page that should cover all of your legal requirements. If you’re engaging in e-commerce or other trade, you may want to go ahead and spend the money to consult an attorney to help you write an air-tight page. It may seem expensive in the short-term, but if it saves you from just one act of litigation, it will have paid for itself.

Cookies Notifications

If you’re collecting and recording data about your web page, such as number of visits, high traffic times, length of time visitors spend on your site, you will want to notify your users that you are collecting this information. Many people overlook this, but in some places it’s required. You want to make sure that you are complying with this even if it isn’t required, as it’s a simple step that makes sure you’re covered no matter where your users are located.

Privacy Policy

This is one of the only legal requirements that you need to be sure you have covered. If you are collecting any personal information from your users, including location data, email addresses, demographics, or pretty much any other information, you will need to establish a privacy policy, and you will need to make sure that your users acknowledge and agree to it before proceeding. The same types of terms and conditions generators often include a privacy policy option that can ask you directly about the programs you’re using to help you determine what needs to be in your policy.

Copyrights – Yours and Others

This one should be common sense, but you’d be surprised how much copyright infringement takes place on the web every day. Or maybe you aren’t surprised, but you don’t think it is an issue for you. Make sure that any images that you are using are legal. Check for creative commons licensing before using an image, or make sure you’ve purchased it from a legitimate source. Whenever possible, use your own content, or that you have purchased content from someone who is writing it directly for you. Any written content can be run through a plagiarism checker like Copyscape, and Google Images lets you run a reverse image search to show you if it’s appeared anywhere else. If it’s got a creative commons license, you’ll find that listed. If not, don’t use it. Additionally, any original content that you’ve created yourself or paid to have created for you should be marked with a copyright disclaimer, to prevent others from stealing your content.

Accessibility

Depending on where you live, you may have legal requirements for your site to have accessibility options such as subtitles for audio, or text descriptions of images (that can be converted to audio) so that people with hearing or vision impairment can have full use of your site. Again, much of this may depend on the type of content or services you are providing, but you should make sure you have this covered. While this may not fall under your area of expertise, any reputable web-developer should be up to date on how to access and incorporate these if needed. Make sure that it’s specified in the contract with your developer so that in the event that you do come under scrutiny, you can pass the responsibility on.

E-commerce Regulations

If you’re selling products or services over the internet, there are significantly more concerns that you will need to be aware of. Everything from how to properly tax depending on the state the goods are shipped to, or if it’s even legal to sell your product across state lines. This is where it’s really necessary to have an attorney review this information with you. When you begin taking other people’s money you want to make sure that you have covered all of your bases.

Target Audience

This is also one where you need to be careful. Depending on your target audience, you may need to look further. There are very specific laws that address what you can market to children, how you can collect their information, and how you may need to get parental permission. Make certain that you are following all regulations in regards to minors if you have content that might be questionable as well. This is one of the places that privacy policies, terms and conditions, and disclaimers come into play.

This list certainly doesn’t cover every possible situation you may run into- it is the internet after all, but it should give you some things to think about and options to research before you get started. As always, when in doubt, consult an expert. Protecting your interests and your bottom line are too important to let slide due to a lack of knowledge.

Katie Lee

Katie Lee is a marketing manager at Harper Finch Lawyers - one of Brisbane’s criminal law firms, offering legal services pertaining to criminal and traffic offences.