Basic Legal Documents that Websites Need

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Websites come in a wide variety. Some sell products and services, others facilitate social interactions, while others serve as a platform for publishing content. Basically, the variety of websites is as broad as the variety of businesses in “terra firma.” Actually, the variety of online businesses is somewhat broader than the terra firma counterparts due to special functionality and interactivity that is only be available online.

Below is an introductory description of the basic “start up” documents that a website should have in place prior to launch. While sometimes website owners might try to cobble these documents together by themselves, they really should be prepared by a legal professional because every website has its own unique issues that need to be properly addressed. Often such a professional will be referred to as an Internet Lawyer, Internet Attorney, Website Lawyer, etc. Whatever term is used, it is important to verify the experience of the lawyer involved.

Terms of Use

Users and visitors to websites need to comply with certain rules. These rules may be referred to by a variety of names, such as Terms of Use, Terms of Service, Terms and Conditions, Website Terms, or simply Terms. These Terms serve a variety of important purposes, such as describing:

  • Rights of the website to use content a user uploads
  • Rights of users to use content found on the website
  • Product return policies
  • Prohibited activities applicable to users
  • Rights of website to terminate user access
  • Procedures for websites modifying the Terms
  • Payment terms
  • Website warranties and disclaimer of warranties
  • Limitations on the website’s liability to users
  • Law and jurisdiction for lawsuits between a user and website

Privacy Policy

Privacy on the Internet is a hot issue these days. Users and visitors give information directly to websites when they register, set up an account, transact business or request information. Users also give information unwittingly by just visiting a website, such as IP address, web browser type, general geographic location, information on websites and web pages visited, etc. Some information is personally identifying (meaning that it can be traced to a specific person (e.g., names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.)), while other information is not personally identifying, such as web browser type, pages visited, ads clicked on, etc. Most people are not that concerned about the information that is not personally identifying. However, due to the possible linkage between both types of information, much more “identifying” information is being collected about individuals than people may be comfortable with.

A Privacy Policy defines the type of information that websites collect and describes how the website will use the information, what type of information might be transferred to third parties, how the third parties might use the information, and how information may be verified, changed and deleted by users. Not all websites based in the U.S. are required to have a Privacy Policy. However, once a Privacy Policy is posted, the website is legally obligated to comply with the terms of the Privacy Policy. Though, as mentioned, U.S. law does not require many websites to post Privacy Policies, users expect to see them, and will often avoid using a website that does not have a Privacy Policy. Privacy Policies need to be carefully drafted to clearly indicate how user information is collected and used, and to provide websites with the flexibility they need to use the collected information in their businesses.

Infringement Policies

For websites that contain user-generated content, which can include videos, blogs, user comments, photographs, etc. the law in the U.S. (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)) provides a safe harbor which shields websites from liability if users upload content that infringes a third party’s copyright. By custom, these procedures are also often followed for trademark infringement situations as well. Part of qualifying for the DMCA safe harbor involves posting and following an Infringement Policy.

From the author: William S. Galkin, Esq.