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Internet Law for Websites

Web Site Policies

Every commercial web site should consider having language advising consumers and/or users of terms of use, conditions and policies.  For example, web sites that sell to customers in the United States and accept credit cards as payment may have to provide specific information about a location of any storefront and terms of the seller’s refund or warranty policy.  And, web sites targeted at certain consumer (e.g., children, medical patients, banking investors, etc.) may need to have very specific procedures in place for conformity with various laws. In addition, if a web site allows a user to post or upload content to the site, then the site should consider including a notice to explain Section 230 of the CDA and to reserve all rights and defenses for any alleged defamatory content posted by another.

The Privacy Policy

One policy that should stand out on every commercial web site is the “Privacy Policy”.  For example, customers often want to know whether a business intends to sell personal information, such as a customer’s name, e-mail address, other contract information, web surfing or viewing and activity preferences, and/or purchasing history (e.g., sometimes referred to as “consumer profile” or “ClickStream” data).  Businesses who assure its customers that such information will be held secret often see increased sales.  Each business needs to make sure that the privacy policy it creates best suits the needs of its customers and users, and more important, that the “Privacy Policy” complies with the law (e.g., medical data and compliance with HIPAA, uploading potential copyright content owned by others, etc.).

The Refund Policy & Warranty Provisions

Many U.S. states and teritorries require that businesses establish a refund policy and/or a warranty policy as well as a way of notifying consumers of the terms of such policies.  For example, if a business provides a refund within thirty (30) days, then such language should be posted for a site that provides online sales.  And, at the very least, if a consumer inquires as to what the refund policy consists of, a web site owner must timely inform that consumer via e-mail or another communication method, typically within five to seven (5-7) days of such a query.

Terms of Use

The more difficult policy to communicate to your web site visitors is your “Terms of Use” or “Terms of Service”.  Some web sites label this as “disclaimer”.  Since every web site is different, each web site needs to have its own, unique, Terms of Use.  And each business is different and should have Terms of Use that are created to compliment the distinctive features, procedures, and policies of its structure.  So, don’t knock off the Terms of Use of your competitors without understanding that you might be doing your business a disservice.
That is not to say that a business cannot learn something from reading the Terms of Use on another web site that is similar.  And, a business may discover, that there are certain standard elements in a Terms of Use, such as the choice of law identifying the state for filing a lawsuit against the website.

The Copyright Notice

While not required under U.S. copyright law, posting a copyright notice on a web site may reduce the likelihood of another plagiarizing web site content, may increase the amount of damages a copyright owner is entitled to if someone infringed, and may protect the business’ interests in jurisdictions that are not signatories to the Berne Convention.
To the extent that any copyright notice is required, notification should include:
Copyright [date] by [name]
Notifications may substitute the “c” in a circle © instead of the word “copyright”.

DMCA Agent

If a web site receives uploaded content by others, has message boards, a guestbook, a chat area, or any other place that a visitor could, without the consent of the business, post potential copyrighted material, the business may get protection under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) by registering with the U.S. Copyright Office and designating a registered agent for DMCA notification.  Each business should consult with an attorney or with the U.S. Copyright Office to understand what this involves before registering an agent.

Last Modified: December 5th, 2009