You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your website. Likely, you’ve spent hours tweaking your layout with web designers and creating compelling copy with content creators. Creating your site and crafting your message is important, but once you have things in place you’d be wise to think about the legal side of owning a website.
Protecting yourself and your website legally is one of the last things most people think about.
The Internet is pretty much a free-for-all, right? That’s not so true anymore. The Internet has evolved enough that legal precedents have been set; some rules have been put in place to protect both consumers and businesses. If you’re not protected you could find yourself in legal trouble.
While there are still not too many hard and fast rules, depending on the capabilities of your website, there are some legal pages you will want to have in place.
You may think that no one reads the legal mumbo-jumbo, so who cares. But don’t fall into this trap, because if there is ever a problem your legal pages may just save your business.
The Importance of Compliance
Using add-ons and services to boost the power of your website is a common practice. Examples of these include:
- Google AdWords
- Discussion forum software
- Email collectors
- Tracking software
There are often rules that accompany the use of the various types of software that you employ on your website. These rules are in place to protect both businesses and consumers from fraudulent behavior or invasion of privacy.
Related: Are you breaking any Google’s policy
In addition, online marketers fall under the rules of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), just like print, radio, and television marketers. There are rules, for instance, regarding marketing to children that, if broken, carry pretty stiff penalties.
As a website owner, it is your responsibility to know the types of legal pages you should have on your website and how and when they are visible to people who visit the site. Perhaps users must opt in before they are allowed to view site content or perhaps putting your legal pages in a prominent position on every page is enough.
Be sure you understand your own unique situation based on your business location and your industry.
Types of Legal Pages
Because the Internet is becoming increasingly regulated, and because service providers are more savvy about protecting themselves, there can be a long list of legal documents you may need to include on your website. In addition, every country has their own requirements and some industries have even further, more specific requirements.
Related: Website Laws and Regulations in UK
The bottom line is that you must know the rules that govern you, but here are some basics that everyone should think about.
If your copyright is complicated, you may want to add a page or a blurb with a more specific explanation of your copyright protections. Generally, however, a standard copyright statement on each page (usually at the bottom) will protect you.
Terms and Conditions
Some third-party products require you to have certain provisions on your terms and condition page. In short, the terms and conditions page explains to users of the site what is allowed and what is not allowed on your site. Third-party software companies often want to have a say in the types of websites their products are used on.
Terms and conditions cover a broad range of actions including:
- Allowed and disallowed content, if users are posting content themselves
- What actions you will take if disallowed content is posted
- Registration requirements of the site
- Use of images from the site
A terms and conditions page is especially important for sites that have forums and user discussion areas.
- How to opt-out of data collection
- What happens to information you collect (or doesn’t happen)
- How you use personal information
- How third-party sites may use information
Disclaimers cover many areas. General disclaimers tell users that you are not responsible for the reliability of information on your site and that users basically use your site at their own risk.
It’s a good idea to use legal disclaimers on the following types of websites:
- Sites with social networking elements
- Sites with user-contributed content, especially those without a moderator
- Sites that offer advice or opinion in the legal, medical or other fields
- Sites that make use of guest posts
Some professions use disclaimers as a standard practice, or to comply with their own governing body’s rules. This often applies to websites in the medical or legal areas. Since a disclaimer is simple to create and maintain, using a general disclaimer on your site is a good start to protecting yourself.
Other Types of Legal Information
There are lots of other types of legal information you may want to include somewhere on your site. The basic idea is to make users of your site feel comfortable that you are a legitimate business and that you respect their data. Having some of this information on your site may prevent legal problems in the future.
Having an About Us page lets website users know who you are and can be a trust-building tool. While not technically a legal page, an About Us page does show your legitimacy to your website users.
Contact Page or Form
Providing a contact page is a good way to help prevent legal action. By letting users of your site get hold of you with questions, concerns or complaints you may avoid a legal challenge. Giving your customers a place to complain may take the heat off you.
External Links Policy
If your pages have link to pages on other websites, you may want to consider a statement regarding these other companies and organizations. For instance, you may want to state specifically that you do not endorse the views or guarantee accuracy of information found on these links and that you are merely providing them as a courtesy.
If you give away free stuff or endorse products, you should include a disclosure stating your connection (if any) to the maker. Other situations in which a disclosure should be used are paid affiliates, marketing to minors, and paying for or offering products in exchange for reviews.
What legal pages are required by which websites
How to Easily Add Legal Pages to Your WordPress Site
Given all this information, you may want to do a quick search and find some free legal website documents that you can put up on your site right away. But, before you do that, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I know what I need?
- Are the free documents truly legal?
- Have free documents been reviewed and approved by a lawyer?
When you’re looking to protect yourself, WPLegalPages provides inexpensive insurance for your online business, with legally sound website documents.