Legal Protection for your website

Dear Computer Lady,

I need your advice on internet law.

What should be in the Terms of Service or Website Liabilities if I was interested in starting an online business?

How does a website or webpage save themselves from lawsuits?

– Olga

Dear Olga,

This is an excellent question, and one that I have been trying to decide about with my website as well. I first put my website together 14 years ago and back then I didn’t even give it a thought.

Since this is something that I need to learn about as well, I forwarded your message to a friend of mine, who has written the book about web design (literally) and here is his answer:

Hi Olga,

Elizabeth asked me if I’d be interested in answering this, and as a fan of hers for many years I’m happy to contribute when I can. First though, understand that I am not an attorney so I’m not qualified to give legal advice. My answer is based on 16 years experience as a webmaster and owner of about 30 websites.

Having said that, there just isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to your question. Different types of sites have different legal needs and requirements. For example, an email service needs language prohibiting using the service to send spam, but a site offering book reviews doesn’t.

One reason for having a Terms of Service (TOS) document is for legal protection. Another is to stipulate unacceptable use and to be able terminate services to violators with less risk of legal consequences.

Most TOS statements include several of the following:

– Clause that the site is provided on an “AS IS” basis
– Availability, usability, and suitability of the site is not guaranteed
– Liability / Indemnification clauses
– Copyright and Trademark information
– Procedures for making claims of infringement
– Prohibited uses and termination clauses
– Privacy policy / age requirements (if any)
– Material connection disclosures
– Policies regarding inbound and outbound links
– Language allowing the Terms of Use to be changed without notice

Many times things like copyright information and the privacy policy are covered in separate documents. There may be other things I’m not thinking of at the moment, or that would be specific to the kind of site in question.

Of course, the safest way to have a TOS that best suits your site is to consult an attorney, preferably one familiar with Internet law. I know most people won’t make that investment though, which leaves you with two options…

I use Copy and Paste Legal Forms written by attorney J. Scott Talbert. This product covers a variety of needs and it’s a fraction of the cost of hiring your own lawyer to draft the forms for you. Copy and Paste Legal Forms are also more reasonably priced than other similar products. J. Scott Talbert saw a need for reasonably priced legal documents and has filled it quite well.

These legal forms really are “copy and paste” easy to use. There were two sets of documents when I purchased them. One set is written in such a way that you can literally copy and paste as is. The other set has places highlighted where you can replace “placeholder” text with your own information (company name, website address, contact info). You can’t miss the places where you should modify the documents as the placeholder words are highlighted with bright colors.

For most websites, Copy and Paste Legal Forms will work just fine. For sites that carry more inherent risk, such as sites that offer legal advice, health advice, or financial advice, I’d recommend consulting an attorney.

Of course, the other way is to fake it. That is, write your own terms of service and other legal documents (you really need more than just the TOS). You can model your documents after other sites’ legal documents. Don’t just use their words on your site, that’s illegal, but you can see what they have in theirs and write about it in your own words. I DO NOT recommend doing this, but it’s probably better than doing nothing. There are two reasons I don’t recommend modeling:

– You’re not an attorney, so you have no way of knowing if you’re modeling a document that offers real legal protection or one that just sounds “legal-like” in its verbiage. The difference can be very subtle to the untrained eye, but have a very dramatic difference in actual legal protection.

– Even if you model a good document, you would have to rewrite it so you aren’t stealing someone else’s copyrighted words. YOUR words could easily be unenforceable, and hence, offer no legal protection.

I’ve used Copy and Paste Legal Forms for a few years now. Before that I used a more expensive but similar product. I switched for several reasons, but one is because Copy and Paste Legal Forms are written in “plain talk” language. Even Google switched to plain talk legal documents a few years back. If you don’t want to hire an attorney, I recommend at least using legal forms that have been written by an attorney. Copy and Paste Legal Forms gives you that.

Here are links to the Copy and Paste Legal Forms web site:

Affiliate Link (Thank you!)

Non-affiliate Link

Hope that helps!

Dennis

I’d like to thank Dennis for that great answer! You have not only answered that question for Olga, but for me as well!

For more great information on Website design, be sure to visit his website at: www.boogiejack.com and don’t forget to sign up for his free newsletter while you are there.

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