Ownership of an internet business website can be a legal nightmare. To protect yourself, you need to be aware of a few basic issues and requirements. This article provides a few suggestions for covering these issues.
Copyright 2006 Stephen Wright
With the number of internet businesses being established on the internet setting new records seemingly every business day, it is no surprise that a growing number of these end with serious business and legal difficulties. A common excuse appears to be a claim of “ignorance to the law” or the fact that many are simply unaware of the existing regulations and laws. Sadly, as you might expect, ignorance is not a recognized defense for the legal requirements.
To protect yourself and your investment, it is strongly recommended that you follow a few basic practices and include legal notices in the content of your website. Generally, there are a few general business notices and a relatively short list of legal notices that if included, will provide basic coverage and notice to outside parties seeking to validate (or dispute) the credibility and legal sufficiency of your website activities.
There are a number of ways to obtain the notices and language needed for these purposes. Certainly, obtaining legal advice is a preferred method,if considered necessary. Without going to this expense, many web entrepreneurs are comfortable by performing a canvass of a given website’s competitors. Staying close to the coverage and language of other websites who generally sell the same or similar supplies and services of your site can be adequate. These should be altered and customized as appropriate to fit your specific circumstances (to avoid potential legal issues of copyright infringment). Of late, there are a number of internet websites who provide notice wording and online notice language generation (some free of charge, some on a fee basis). And of course there are software products available for this purpose as well.
As a basic primer into the notices needed, below is a representative sampling of those needed:
GENERAL CATEGORY NOTICES:
CONTACT INFORMATION/CONTACT US: Websites should contain a webpage which identifies various means to contact the company. These include valid email addresses and phone numbers. The new CAN/SPAM requirements stipulate that a full physical address be included as well.
ABOUT/ABOUT US: Websites should contain a webpage which identifies the general company information, including ownership information, historic perspective of the company, etc.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS/FAQ’s: Websites should contain a webpage which contains a listing of the most commonly asked questions regarding interacting with the given business. This page is entirely optionally, but can substantially reduce numbers of inquiries and questions by making this information readily available to potential customers in advance.
NOTICES OF A LEGAL NATURE:
EARNINGS DISCLAIMER: Many sales and promotional marketing websites contain specific claims of revenues achieved by owners, affiliates, or others using their products. For these websites, it is recommended that they contain a webpage with statements concerning potential earnings potential and the lack of “guarantees” regarding the amounts used. Any amounts used should be disclaimed as "results achieved by others - and in no way a guarantee that everyone will have similar results", or words to that effect.
DISCLAIMER ON USE OF DATA: Websites should contain a webpage which contains specifics regarding the limitations and liabilities for the use, sharing, or redistribution of data and information contained on your website. Also, for website that include information which may be downloaded by clients, disclaimers regarding limitations of your liability for viruses, spyware, worms, etc., or other calamities incurred during the download are appropriate.
PRIVACY: With the continuing SPAM problems, it is advisable that websites include a webpage which advises visitor’s regarding the company’s policy for safeguarding any data received from them. This should include the nature of the data gathering, purpose, intended use, disposition, and sharing of any data information obtained. And by all means, ALWAYS follow the stated policy. Website owners should resist the temptation to sell visitor information when the sharing of this data was not properly disclosed at the time it was obtained.
COPYRIGHT: Websites should contain a webpage which contains copyright specifics. This disclaimer is required to alert others regarding the legal standing of your products and services.
Legal Notice Support: To avoid even the potential of legal problems, anyone considering doing business on the internet is required to be fully aware of the rules, regulations, and laws which website owners are required to abide by. As a resource for conducting business within the United States, owners should review basic information at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website. For the latest FTC coverage, visit the following website: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/dotcom/index.html
All website owners must be aware of the laws regarding unwanted email (SPAM). Current requirements mandate the inclusion of a physical address and an “opt-out” method for all email marketing campaigns. Check on all the latest SPAM regulations at the FTC website: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/spam/rules.htm
The requirements are not complicated or impossible to follow. Many agree, they are straightforward, but even so, being aware of the rules and laws, knowing where to go and what the “basic rules are” is absolutely critical. My disclaimer here is: “in no way are these tips and ideas intended to be a comprehensive all-inclusive listing of the legal and business notices needed to run an internet business. These are representative examples only. Legal counsel should be used when in doubt". However, this article is intended to raise your awareness to the issues and prompt you to appropriate action.
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