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Do you need Terms of Use on your website?

Attorney Venus Liles gives the lowdown on the legalities and possible liabilities associated with website terms of use

When creating a new website, considerations such as a visually-pleasing design, user-friendliness, informative content, conversion rate optimization, SEO tactics, lead tracking capabilities, and mobile responsiveness generally top the priority list. As for the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy? These are often an afterthought, added from a boilerplate just before the website goes live (if at all!) to tick a box. You may be surprised to learn that your website’s terms and policies are just as important as all the other legal documents you have in place to protect your business.

Do you need Terms of Use on your website? The answer is a resounding yes! It’s also important that they are drafted with your business in mind. I recently talked with Venus Liles, Founder and Managing Attorney of Liles Law, to get the lowdown on the legalities of website Terms and Conditions.

What is the function of Terms of Use on a website?

A website’s Terms of Use is a legal document between the owner of the website and the website visitors. For the website owner, the primary purpose is to significantly mitigate the liability they may be exposed to when operating a public-facing website.

What are some of the most common ways Terms of Use protect your business?

Let’s be honest—we live in a litigious society. When something goes wrong, people often look for someone to blame. Having website Terms of Use reduces the likelihood that they’re able to blame you. For example, if your website is down for a period of time, a website visitor may allege that they expected constant access to the information on your website and were adversely affected by your website’s downtime. Various disclaimers embedded in the Terms of Use would protect you in cases such as this.

If a valid claim is made against you, including your limitation of liability in your terms brings your liability down to a specific dollar amount, which can become a critical protection for your business in the event of a dispute. It’s also important to specify where any disputes would be discussed or settled; you’d probably prefer to settle a dispute in your hometown rather than out of state.

Why can’t I use boilerplate Terms of Use provided by my website developer?

Make sure that your website terms are specifically written for your company, taking into account the functionality of your website, any legal risks that arise from that, where you’re located geographically, and your general risk tolerance.

Although website terms aren’t signed, they are nevertheless legal documents. So, unless your developer also freelances as an attorney, you should have an attorney to draft these terms, just as you would want an attorney to draft all the other contracts for your business. If your website developer offers you boilerplate terms, they are probably offering the same terms to all of their clients. If you want to ensure the terms protect your specific business, avoid those boilerplate terms and invest in legal documents for your company.

Do I need to force my website visitors to agree to the Terms of Use before they browse my site?

Adding terms to your website shouldn’t create friction with visitors—there is already legal precedent that states website visitors don’t have to explicitly accept the terms in order to be bound by them. By accessing a website containing an easily accessible Terms of Use document, website visitors assume the terms and agree to them.

We recommend linking the terms and privacy policy in your sitewide footer. Make sure your terms are always accessible on your homepage and easy to find should website visitors want to review them.

What is the function of a Privacy Policy on a website?

A Privacy Policy is another document that protects your business by helping you meet data privacy obligations anytime you collect personal data from people. For example, if you have a contact form on your website, you are collecting personal data when visitors submit a contact form. A Privacy Policy satisfies your responsibilities concerning that data by telling people exactly what kind of data you collect, what you’re going to do with it, what you’re not going to do with it, and who you’re going to share it with.

What type of attorney should I look for to help me create website terms for my business?

If you’re already working with a business attorney to help you draft other contracts for your business, they should be able to help you with your website’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. And if you’re not already working with an attorney, seek one out. While many people are intimidated by the perceived costs of working with a business attorney, there are a variety of options in the market, and their services generally pay for themselves as they protect your business over time.

Do you need assistance with your website?

Brighter Messaging is a full-service digital marketing agency that can help you with anything to do with managing your online presence, and Liles Law is a boutique law firm that helps entrepreneurs with foundational legal elements so they can sleep better at night.

Feel free to reach out to us for any help you need in creating a modern, fully optimized website with all the proper protections in place. We wholeheartedly recommend contacting Liles Law for your startup legal needs.

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