Creating your own website, whether for personal or professional use, is exciting. You have established a foothold on the worldwide web, which can enable you to take your personal or professional brand to the next level and reach new followers and/or consumers. However, what can become lost in all the excitement is legal aspects of your website. Yes, you need to make sure your website conforms legally.
The consequences for your website not conforming legally include potentially having your website shutdown, possible industry sanctions and fines, and maybe even the loss of your business or career.
What You Need to Know to Make Sure Your Website Conforms Legally
The basics of what you need to know to make sure your website conforms legally include the following:
- User-generated content – With the advent of social media, users have become accustomed to being able to express themselves. Therefore, more than likely, your website and business will be more successful if you enable users to contribute to the content on your pages. This can be as simple as allowing them to comment on the blog posts on your website. However, user-generated content poses risks. Do you own user-generated content on your site or does the user? What do you do if a user posts something on your site that is racist, sexist, or defamatory? Are you responsible if a user posts copyrighted content on your website? Those are just a few of the questions you could face regarding user-generated content. As such, one of the best ways for you to protect yourself is to make sure you have terms and conditions posted prominently on your website. Within your terms and conditions, you can spell out the rules users must follow to post on your website. That way, if they break those rules, you are less likely to be held responsible.
- Domain – Your domain or URL (the .com or .net web address that you use to identify your website) must be unique. That means you cannot use a URL that someone else has registered unless you purchase that URL from that individual, business, or organization. Therefore, once you come up with a URL and confirm that no one else has registered that domain, you should register that URL as soon as possible. In most instances, using your business’s name as the URL will work.
- Content licenses – Make sure that you obtain the necessary licenses to for the content you post on your website. For example, if you post stock photos or videos on your website, you must license them from the supplier. Licensing is basically just getting permission to post the supplier’s stock photos or videos on your website. In most cases, licensing content involves paying a fee to the supplier/owner for the right to use their content.
- Web designer – To ensure you have a professional website, you may benefit from hiring or contracting a web designer to build your site. If you do, you will probably have to agree to terms on a web design or development contract with your web designer. The contract should include how much setting up the website will cost, what the timeline for getting the website up and running will be, and how you expect the finished product to turn out.
- Fair use – Be aware that there is protected content that you can post on your website without a license. This is known as fair use content. This type of content must meet certain criteria to be considered fair use, and even if it meets these criteria, you should still make sure that its suppliers have categorized it as fair use. The criteria that content must meet to be considered fair use include being available to the public and factually based, educational, only a snippet of a larger piece of content (such as a two-minute clip from a two-hour movie), or if the content is not available for licensing or purchase.
- Copyright Law – Familiarize yourself with copyright law so that you can ensure you and your website’s users avoid engaging in copyright infringement. In particular, know the ins and outs of the Communications Decency Act, which may protect you from being held responsible if any of the user-generated content on your website infringes on a copyright.
- Website hacking – You need to be prepared if your website is hacked. In many cases, you will be required to alert your website’s users if there is a security breach and hackers may have gained access to their private information. Ensuring your web designer has put all the proper protections in place to prevent a security breach can sometimes limit your liability. In addition, you should think about getting a cyber liability insurance policy, which can help cover the costs of a security breach.
- E-commerce – If you are using your website to sell products online, you will need to know the rules for selling online. These include consumer protection and e-commerce laws. One example is that you will be required to make your contact information available to customers so that they can get in touch with you if necessary. In addition, other e-commerce rules and laws you should be aware of include regulations concerning your refund policy, your prices, whether your prices must include applicable taxes, and your cancellation policy.
- Software usage rights – You will need to use software to run your website, and like content, you will have to make sure that you have a right to use that software. For instance, WordPress falls under a General Public License, which means is a free software license. This allows you to use WordPress as you see fit, including modifying it, if you follow the guidelines in the General Public License.
To learn more about what you need to know to make sure your website conforms legally, speak with a business lawyer about your situation.