Many people skim over or ignore the "fine print," but it's there for a reason: To clearly define your responsibilities and protect your business. While the "fine print" may seem like a formality, it can be anything but.
Here are some basic guidelines for business website policies and terms and conditions.
- A description of the type of information you will collect, and whether it will be collected anonymously
- How the information will be collected, (e.g. cookies or clicked links)
- Whether you will share the information and with whom
- A statement that you will disclose information if legally compelled to do so.
- You should also provide people with a way to opt out of future communications.
Terms and Conditions
Your website’s “terms and conditions” give visitors important information about doing business with you. Terms and conditions might include such practical things as shipping and return policies, payment policies, and cancellation and refund policies. Terms and conditions also often contain legal language, including limitations of liability and specification of the state law that will apply in resolving disputes. A business lawyer can advise you on a comprehensive set of terms and conditions.
Copyrights and Trademarks
Your website is protected by copyright as soon as it is created, and you’re not legally required to place a copyright notice on the website. However, a copyright notice, such as "Copyright ©2010 ACME Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved" informs visitors that information (including photos, diagrams, and text) provided on your site should not be copied or distributed without permission. Placing a copyright notice on each page of your site may help deter other people from infringing your copyright.
If your site contains a significant amount of copyrighted material that other people may want to use – photographs, for example – you may want to include a link to your policy for granting permission for others to use your copyrighted work. This increases the chance that people will obtain permission before using something from your website.
If you use any trademarks on your site, include the proper trademark designation to notify visitors that you are claiming trademark rights.
Protection of Minors
If you know that your site will be collecting, using or disclosing personal information about children under the age of thirteen, special guidelines apply. You may be required to get parental consent before collecting or disclosing personal information about a child. On the other hand, you are not required to get consent if you collect an email address to respond to a one-time request, or to ensure the safety of a child (or of your site), or to provide notice to the parents of their child's activity on the site, or to regularly send newsletters or other information to the child (as long as you first notify the parents and give them the opportunity to decline on behalf of their child).
As you can see, running a site catering to children can be complicated: see Federal Trade Commission guidelines or consult with an attorney experienced in child Internet and e-commerce issues.
Forums and Comments
If you maintain a forum or discussion board or allow comments on your blog, you may be liable for comments posted. To limit the possibility of legal ramifications, make sure you:
- Regularly monitor postings. Immediately delete any posts that are offensive or could be considered libelous. (Even though you or your employees may not have created the post, your business could still be liable since the post appears on your site.)
- Remove posts upon request. If someone asks you to remove a post, take the safe route and do so even if you do not consider it to be offensive or libelous. The key is to be safe rather than sorry.
- If you have comments enabled on your blog, set these up so that you must approve them before they are posted publicly.
- Set clear expectations and limits. Highlight the fact your company is not responsible for the accuracy or reliability of third-party statements or posts. Make sure users of your forum understand that their posts can be deleted at any time for any reason.