If you operate a live website, you should take website legal compliance very seriously. Whether you sell goods or offer services online, are an affiliate, a blogger or whether you operate an information-only site, virtually everyone who owns or operates a website is exposed to some form of legal risk.
Legal risks come from a variety of different online activities and business practices. But, website legal documents serve as a critical safeguard and are the first line of defense in preventing or drastically reducing exposure to legal risks. Important website terms and conditions, disclosures and disclaimers are commonly referred to as “website legal documents.” Appropriately drafted website legal documents specific to the nature of the website and/or business practices should be present on all websites. The bottom line is that your failure to address basic website legal compliance could place you or your business at serious risk. In some circumstances, website owners can even lose their personal assets!
All website owners should at least be familiar with the following basic areas of potential liability and how to help prevent such liability by using the right website legal documents:
2. Required Website Disclosures. The FTC Act does not allow any practices which are deceptive. This means you may need to make certain disclosures on your website to qualify certain claims or statements. There are certain specific disclosure requirements under other laws as well. Here is just a brief summary of some website disclosure requirements:
- If your website collects information from children, you need to follow the requirements under COPPA and make required disclosures on your website. Any website that collects any information from children under the age of 13 will need to comply with The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
- You must disclose whether you provide any cash, free products, gifts, coupons, etc. to customers or endorsers making any positive reviews on your website, or have received the same if your an affiliate or blogger in relation to reviewing third-party products or services (a “material connection”).
- Endorsements involving product claims that don’t reflect generally expected results must be accompanied by disclosures. Under the FTC Act, your website should contain any required FTC “Generally Expected Results” Disclosures. Your endorsers cannot make claims you can’t make directly.
- Your website must contain necessary disclosures in connection with any 'results-based' claims regarding your products, including any earnings or income claims.
- Any other disclosure necessary to qualify some claim or statement made on your website so that it is not materially misleading. Any materially misleading.
3. Customer Agreements. When you sell or license goods or services from your website, you should always use some form of a customer agreement containing terms that protect your business. This may include Website terms of sale, terms of service, a content license agreement, or terms of membership/subscription agreement.
5. User-Provided Content. Allowing your visitors to post text, video or image files on your website can create potential third-party liability without taking proper safeguards. In order to address these basic issues, websites should contain a DMCA Policy and a User-Provided Content Policy.
6. Website Disclaimers. Websites containing medical, legal or other general information that may be relied upon and used by website visitors present serious risks. Specialized disclaimers should be used in these instances tailored to the type of information the website it providing. If your website contains "how-to" type information and someone is injured or suffers economic damages based upon the information they read about on your website, this could be a potential cause for concern. Using properly drafted and conspicuous disclaimers on your website can be critical in avoiding liability in such a scenario.