Legal Concerns – Keeping Your Web Site Clean

There are a number of legal and compliance concerns that any web site owner must address – in some industries and jurisdictions there are naturally many more restrictions and regulations that may or may not apply to you and your business web site, ranging from use of content through to disclosure of information.

Copyright and Compliance

You will need to establish with your designer what the reuse rights are for content they have provided: you may be permitted to reuse the content in printed documents, such as brochures and catalogues, or this may be prohibited, depending on the content and the supplier.

You must have the appropriate rights to use all material that is included in your Web site. Most Web site development contracts will state that the responsibility for guaranteeing or acquiring those rights falls to whoever provides the content.

In other words, anything you give to your designer is your responsibility, and will be accepted in good faith. Equally, anything they provide for the finished site or the development process is their responsibility.

In some business areas, there may be legal compliance or disclosure requirements that require you to include certain notices or details. Any regulations that apply to your business area may prevent you making certain statements on your Web site, or may require you to make certain disclosures.

It will generally be your responsibility to make sure that your Web site breaks no legal requirements outside of copyright concerns, unless your designer has explicitly agreed to be responsible.

Be aware that court cases in various countries have established that Web site owners will be held legally responsible for ensuring that their Web site does not contain libellous statements – even if independent members of the public have made those statements, through online message forums for instance.

Trade and Service Marks

Depending on your particular situation or marketplace, there may be registered trademarks or service marks owned by your company. You should ensure that your designer is aware of them so that they can be marked appropriately.

You should also consider any registered service marks or trademarks belonging to third parties. They should be indicated to your web designer, so that they can be marked in your Web site, both for safety’s sake, and out of courtesy to their owners. As with the text and image contents of your Web site, you should treat the trademarks of other companies in the same way as you would like them to treat yours.

Memberships and Registrations

If your company or your employees hold relevant memberships, registrations or subscriptions to trade associations or professional bodies, these are worth indicating to your Web designer. You may be entitled to display a link or a logo for a respected and known organisation, increasing your credibility and respectability in the eyes of your visitors. It may be that your membership or registration makes you eligible for inclusion in specialist directories or Web site lists maintained by the particular organisation.

As in all areas of business, if you have any relevant licences, accreditations, memberships of professional bodies or registrations with trade associations this will project an air of respectability and credibility to your customers. If the membership is something that you have paid for, even if you had no choice in the matter, and are legally obliged to do so, you should make the most of it by harnessing its implied credibility for your Web site.

Legal Concerns

Any existing legal documents that you provide for the use or information of your customers may be reusable on your Web site. This could include any copyright statements, privacy notices, disclaimers or other legal notices that you currently use.

If you had legal advice in preparing the source documents, it will be wise to do the same when converting them to use on the Internet, to ensure that they still meet the same legal requirements in your jurisdiction.

If specific legal frameworks or requirements govern your particular area of business or your marketplace, it will be your responsibility to ensure that your Web site fits in with those requirements, unless your designer explicitly undertakes to do so for you.

Generally, if you fall under particular legal obligations, you will almost certainly have needed to use a legal advisor in the past – they will probably be the ideal person to confirm your obligations as far as a Web site is concerned, and as early in the process as possible.

Some businesses or market areas are required to make certain disclosures or include particular details in any publicity material, such as statutory memberships or registrations. These will naturally need to be included in your Web site.

Conclusions

“Better safe than sorry” is the best philosophy to follow. Adding legal protection notices to your web site – even if you are not obliged to – can increase the solidity, reliability and credibility of your web site in the eyes of your visitors, and may protect you from legal claims by other companies or individuals.

jon m wilson Written by:

As half of the team behind 101projects101days.com, I am a serial starter of things, beginner of projects. I work in bits and in bytes, in words and paragraphs; I work in wood, metal, and paper, in fabric and in leather; I work in fits and in starts. Most of all I work intermittently and inconsistently.

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