For most of us building a website is a really exciting time in the business lifecycle. It’s our opportunity to add a little bit of creative flare into our business image, and it’s a way of introducing our business to the wider world.
Something that we often forget during this process though is the legal side of things. Keeping our web presence on the right side of the law, both here and in other countries is essential. It may not seem like anything to worry about at first glances (you are probably thinking that there are so many websites online that the chances of being prosecuted are minor) but the liability that you face is potentially huge should you not take some simple steps to protect yourself and your business.
The first thing you need to understand is that all content both offline and online holds a copyright. Images, text and design are all examples of content that can hold copyright.
There are two ways you can ensure that you do not breach anyone’s copyright.
- Ensure that your content is your own work and unique to you. That means using your own words, your own images (taken by you or for you) and ensuring that your website is designed from scratch and uses unique code.
- Ensure that any content you use that is not rightfully yours is licensed for you to use, and that you use that content exactly as per the terms of your license. That means that if perhaps you don’t have your own images you may consider purchasing stock images from an online site. When doing this ensure that you check the terms of the license agreement and ensure that you retain proof of purchase and your granting of license. If you want to use other peoples text, designs or even want to link to their content then ensure that you first seek permission to do so, and keep a record of that permission just incase you are ever challenged.
Sometimes you can infringe registered trademarks without even realizing it. There are lots of different things that people trademark including images, words and phrases.
It’s not only the actual content of your site that you need to think about when it comes to this, but also the domain name (web address) that you register where your website is displayed.
You should carry out thorough checks before purchasing domain names, using straplines and so on, to ensure that you do not breech registered trademarks – be it intentional or not.
Making false statements about someone or some organization that could be damaging to their reputation means that you could be held liable for a defamation claim.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t mention people or businesses online, but it does mean that you can be held accountable for what you say.
As a basic form of protection you should ensure that if you do have a need and a reason to pass comment then that comment must be based 100% on fact – the truth!
Without links the World Wide Web would not be World Wide, nor would it be a Web. However, there are a few no-no’s when it comes to linking.
Do not use an IMG link, which shows the images located on someone else’s website on your own. This is a form of copyright breech as you are using their work as your own. If you wish to do this you should first seek the copyright owner’s express permission to do so, and retain a record of that permission.
Using frames within your website to display external content. This again runs the risk of breeching copyright, than less of course that content belongs to you. If you wish to do this then again ensure that you first seek and gain permission, and have a record of that permission.
Every website should set out clear guideline for use of the site in the form of a Terms of Usage or Terms and Conditions style document. The document should be easily viewable online and in some cases it could be worth providing a printable copy too.
The Disability Discrimination Act here in the UK means that if you own a website you must take all reasonable steps to ensure that it can be accessed by everyone, regardless of their ability.
In order to adhere to this legislation you should ensure that your website is built inline with W3C standards and you should regularly review your website design and performance to ensure that it remains compliant as technologies change.
Sometimes it isn’t always possible to stay totally within the law. It could be that the use of a single word could breech someone’s trademark, and potentially no end of research would flag that breech up.
If your website is commercially based (used for business rather than pleasure) then it would be strongly recommended to think about some form of insurance cover should the worst happen.
Many standard insurance policies for business now include a clause regarding the running of a website, or at least have add-in’s to cover for such things. If however you run an e-commerce site the it would be advisable to look into full e-commerce insurance to ensure that you are fully protected for all eventualities.
We are by no means experts on the law. We are not legally trained, nor should our advice within this post be taken as gospel.
Wherever possible, should you feel that your website requires it, you should consider seeking out professional legal advice.
However, hopefully this article will serve as a rough guide to help you make informed decisions.