Making Your Website Legal

Terms of useMaking your website legal by using proper Terms of Use, a Privacy Policy, a Copyright Policy, and appropriate disclaimers, and knowing the laws affecting e-commerce, can prevent regulatory problems and protect you and your customers.

Terms of Use

A “Terms of Use” agreement is an online contract between the users of your website and your business. In short, if the user wants to access your website, your Terms of Use control how they get to do that. In particular, you get to say what the user is entitled to access, how they are entitled to access it, and what they are allowed to do with the information on your website.

The biggest caution here is in being overbearing and including things in your Terms of Use that are irrelevant to your business or that you don’t plan to follow. Remember – it’s a contract, so it binds you too. Make sure that the Terms of Use says what you will do, and that you do what your Terms of Use says. It’s a good idea to review your Terms of Use with your lawyer and to make sure that you understand what you are agreeing to.

Privacy Policy

The Privacy Policy is a very important document if you are in any way collecting information about the people who visit your website. The Privacy Policy tells your users what you plan to do with that information and gets the user’s consent. So if you plan to sell your customer email list, make sure you disclose that in your Privacy Policy.

Just as with your Terms of Use, you will be bound by what you say in your Privacy Policy. Moreover, the Federal Trade Commission (the “FTC”) will enforce your Privacy Policy if you make disclosures of user information that the user did not agree to. Once again, it is important to review your privacy policy with your lawyer.

Copyright Policy

Your Copyright Policy tells users of your website what to expect regarding their use of copyrighted text, images, videos, sound files, or other media. It really does three things. First, it tells the user what they can and cannot do with your content, putting the user on notice of your rights. Second, it protects you from a user that uploads infringing content to your site (thereby making you liable for their infringement) by prohibiting such conduct. And third, it gets the authorization of the user who uploads their own original content for you to publish their work on your website (also known as a copyright license).

The Copyright Policy should reflect what you actually do. If you don’t actually have users uploading content, for example, don’t include language about user content. As always, say what you are going to do, and do what you say.

Disclaimers

Website disclaimers may be part of your Terms of Use, Privacy Policy or Copyright Policy, or they may stand alone in a separate document. Disclaimers are simply statements that deny responsibility for specific things. You may want to disclaim warranties, rights or obligations specific to the type of good or services you sell. For example, lawyers have to make the disclaimer that they are not giving legal advice by putting content on their websites.

Because your disclaimers are specific to your business, be careful not to just “borrow” disclaimers from another website. Make sure you use language specific to your industry, jurisdiction and how you do business.

E-Commerce

Do you conduct business transactions through e-commerce? Before you accept a credit card from a customer, or accept a client’s click-through of your Terms of Use, you need to understand what it means to sign a document online. Florida’s law concerning e-signatures is somewhat convoluted, with somewhat conflicting rules and regulations.

A “digital signature” is an encrypted signature that uses strong encryption to validate an electronically-signed document. Digital signatures have the same force and effect as a handwritten signature under Florida law. A digital signature is capable of being verified with mathematical precision, where an unencrypted electronic signature is not verifiable at all. For that reason, we strongly encourage the use of public-key encrypted signatures for all online transactions.

Online Resources

On our Small Business Resources page, you will find our Website Bundle, a selection of forms useful toe-commerce businesses, as well as basic forms of Terms of Use, Copyright Policy and Privacy Policy. These forms, coupled with a half-hour consultation with our attorney, will help you get started.

 

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