Keeping your website legal

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.

Copyright

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Trademarks

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.

Defamation

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!

Linking

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.

Usage Policies

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.

A Privacy Policy should be in place to explain to visitors how you treat their privacy. This is especially important should your site collect information from them, sell products or services, or use cookies to track their browsing habits whilst on your site – even if you use external services such as Google Analytics rather than your own on-site service. And, as per new EU Legislation you must also seek to gain a visitors permission to use cookies prior to them using your site. A simple pop-up window that asks them to either agree to the policy or not use your site should protect the average website.

Accessibility 

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.

Protection

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.

Summary

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.

What is SSL & SSH, and do I need them?

SSL and SSH are both terms you are likely to either have come across in the past or will come across in the future. Both are abbreviations for achieving secure data transfers.

SSL

This stands for Secure Sockets Layer, and commonly uses Port 443 to connect your computer to a secure server on the Internet. SSL is commonly used for the transmission of sensitive data on the Internet such as Credit Card details, Tax, Banking and other Personal Information – usually to a business, such as an e-commerce retailer.

SSH

This stands for Secure Shell and commonly uses Port 22 to connect your computer to another computer on the Internet. Usually, SSH is used by a network administrator for things like remote login, where the administrator can login to a company network from home and carry out tasks such as rebooting the email server or resetting passwords.

Why?

The purpose of both SSL and SSH is to create a confidential connection across the World Wide Wed. It is generally not possible for a regular hackers to break into an SSL or SSH connection, except in only very few circumstances, and the method used for encryption is as reliable as it can be.

If you are required to transmit any kind of sensitive data using the net then it is advisable to do so using either SSL or SSH as data transfer is scrambled into a meaningless result to anyone who intercepts that information other than the two computers directly involved in the sending and receiving process.

How?

From the point of view say of a customer to an e-commerce website who is going to make a purchase, SSL is more than likely something they aren’t even aware of. The sign that the website uses SSL is that the beginning of the web address will start https:// rather than http://.

When the customer makes their payment and submits their details this process will normally be processed via https:// and the process before it, where they simply choose the product they want to buy, is likely to only use http://.

Cost?

To this e-commerce customer there is no direct cost. They simply shop in the normal way, as they would expect to.

However, to the merchant there will be a cost to the use of SSL. This cost will vary depending on their web host, with some hosts charging a monthly fee and others opting for an annual subscription. Either way, SSL is generally ordered via your web host.

Summary

If you are required to collect sensitive data on the web, or need to transfer that data between computers or servers then privacy legislation means that you have a first hand responsibility to safeguard it.

As such, the use of SSL and SSH is highly advisable. At the very least, if you are using SSL and there is still a breach of security with regard to the transmission of that data, then you are at least seen as having taken all necessary precautions to safeguard the data whilst it is in your possession.

What Makes A Great Web Host?

There are three extremely simple answers to this question.

Service
Usability
Value for Money

A Google search will uncover thousands of blog articles relating to this but you will find that most are paid-for posts that tell you to “stick with the big names”. Interestingly, the bigger the web host becomes and the more well known it is, the worse all three of the above become. Don’t be swayed by stupidly low prices as often the money is made in the provision of essential services that they then require you to ‘add on’. As a result, none of these three areas are achieved, telling a very different story to what those blog posts say.

Instead, it is worthwhile spending a little time researching your potential new web-hosting providers, creating a kind of “comparison chart” that looks at the three areas mentioned above.

In fact, if truth were told, you are far more likely to have a positive web-hosting experience by trusting your requirements to a smaller web host, such as a web hosting reseller.

Resellers come in all different shapes and sizes, although often you will find that a reseller also offers other services as the main focus of their business, such as website design. Web-hosting providers such as these are generally a far better choice as you receive friendly and reliable service backed up with the technical knowhow that is so important in an area such as web hosting.

Lets take a closer look at the three key points to look out for.

Service

Everyone is entitled to nothing short of outstanding customer service. Is it really too much to ask to speak to one person (no press 1 for this, 2 for that, 3 for the other… hold tone for 10 minutes… and so on) who is genuinely happy to help you, keen to stay in touch with you (even when there isn’t a problem), and has a vested interest in delivering exactly what they have promised? With a smaller web-hosting provider you get exactly that.

Usability

Web hosting set-up and administration can be an absolute nightmare even for the most technically savvy of people. You should be able to have access to your own web-hosting account first and foremost. Don’t trust everything to your web host. I know a lot of small businesses that have had issues with cancelling products and services and the such-like because the web host they were doing business with decided to “get funny” with them. If you have access to your own customer control panel then you can at least have a little control over what happens with your account.

Your customer control panel should be nice and simple. The bigger the web host then usually the more complex your control panel becomes. All you need is the ability to actually find what you are looking for, such as where to manage and order/cancel your domain names and hosting packages, where to go if you need to update your personal and security details, and where to go if you are having problems and need either a simple FAQ’s section or a simple online support form to complete in order to request help.

Value for Money

Don’t get “cheap” mixed up with “value for money”, and don’t be tempted with rock-bottom prices and tall promises.

Instead, you should look for a web host that gives you more for your money, in terms of both service and features. For example, a well-known UK web host that advertises on TV provides a low-cost hosting package that at first glances looks extremely attractive. However, when you actually look at what the package includes you are disappointed very quickly. The package in question doesn’t provide any MySQL Databases (you’ve got to pay for them!), it doesn’t provide any one-click-installs for the popular website frameworks such as WordPress or OSCommerce, and there are lots of restrictions on usage. A smaller web host often has all of these features inclusive of their slightly more expensive package – backed up with great service and excellent usability.

Where to look

Start with simple online searches, by all means looking at the bigger providers, but make sure you search for smaller local providers too and give serious consideration to using them. After all, if you have an issue with your service then who would you rather be dealing with – a random customer service operator that is more than likely based in another country, or the same person you speak to each and every time who is based 30 minutes up the road?

Choose wisely, make an informed decision, and do what is right for you and/or your business.