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Entrepreneurship Month: How to Make and Keep Your New Website Legal

Getting the legal details right is probably not the first thing a small business owner considers when launching a new website. After all, it’s much more exciting to develop content and pick out photos to showcase your goods or services than it is to consider the legal aspects of anything you put online.

Failing to think about these legal issues, however, can end up being a big problem down the road. That’s why we have gathered and answered some of the most common questions that come up with regard to the legality of websites and website content to help you avoid legal missteps when it comes to making and launching your website.


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What are the legal issues I need to consider when making and launching my website?

This question is broad, but someone who is developing a website for the first time may not realize how the law affects their site. Some of the most common issues are outlined below.

Copyrights

A copyright is a type of legal protection that is used so that others will not copy your work. Copying content (plagiarism) and using photos that you have no rights to use without permission or credit are some of the most common issues for websites.

Although it is often easy to download and use an image from someone else’s website or from a simple Google image search, you might actually be stealing someone else’s work, and that could land you in hot water when it comes to copyright laws.

One of the best ways to address copyright issues with photos is to create your own works of art. You can create them yourself or hire a photographer to provide the images you need. When that is not possible, you can sometimes find free images online or create a release agreement with the artist so that you can use his or her work. Remember that using copyrighted images without a release or attribution to the artist can end up triggering legal liability.

Domain names

Your domain name often corresponds with your company name. That means that, just as you would for a company name, you need to take care not to use someone else’s domain name or information inappropriately.

You should not only avoid using someone else’s domain or company name, but you might want to take steps to protect your own domain name through trademark registration or trademark protection.

Terms and conditions

You may have heard that your website must have a terms and conditions page. However, you may not be required to have this type of content for every website—but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. There are no formal legal requirements for terms and conditions pages unless you are gathering personal data from customers.

Contracts with your website developer

If you have hired someone to design and develop your website for you, it’s a good idea to have a contract with that individual or company. The contract should address things like:

  • The price of the services.
  • How and when services will be delivered.
  • Who will own the legal rights to the design and the final product.
  • How the agreement can be terminated, including who owns the work in progress.
  • Protections regarding copyright and trademark infringement.

Tailoring a website design or website development contract to the situation is extremely important.

What do I need to know about trademarking my company and domain name?

A trademark is a legal protection for your company’s name and other information specific to your business. In many cases, that includes your domain name.

Generally, a domain name can be trademarked if it is memorable, clever, or suggestive of a particular service or product. It must be distinctive or easy to associate with a particular business. Vague or generic terms cannot be registered as a trademark.

You must also be the first person to use it in association with the specific sale of goods or services you have planned. You can search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office list of trademarks to determine if a particular domain has been trademarked before you start attempting to use it, or you can rely on the trademark experts at Rocket Lawyer to do your trademark search, answer all of your trademark questions, and file your trademark application.

Do I need a disclaimer on my website regarding the collection of data from visitors?

If you are collecting personal information from visitors to your site, you will need a disclaimer to let them know that you are collecting data. This disclaimer is commonly referred to as a “Privacy Policy.” This policy will explain:

  • The type of information that you are gathering from visitors.
  • How you use the information gathered.
  • How you will protect the information (including access and storage protocols).
  • How data transfers are addressed.
  • Use of cookies.
  • Affiliated websites or organizations.

Personal information will vary, but it can include things as simple as names and addresses. It will extend to data like email addresses, social security information, bank accounts, phone numbers, and dates of birth.  

If you do not include this type of privacy policy (and actually implement the steps to protect data), you run the risk of violating both federal and state privacy laws. The consequences of these legal violations can be severe. Rocket Lawyer offers a customizable Privacy Policy to help you give your website visitors confidence in your business and to help you stay compliant with privacy laws.

How can I get more help with the legal aspects of my website?

Website developers and designers can be great resources to ensure that you are complying with certain legal requirements, but they are not lawyers. Although these developers can provide some guidance, checking with an attorney about compliance is a good idea. If you have a question about your particular situation, you can get a quick answer from a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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