Website legal documents are like vitamins: you know they're good for you, but you probably don't know exactly what they do. With a bit of research you could find out what they do - but, let's face it, even lawyers can find legal research a little boring.
There are legal aspects to all websites. Legislation requires that specific categories of information be disclosed on most websites. There are procedural hoops that some kinds of website must jump through. The law also regulates the kinds of content that can be published on a website, and controls the legal nature of the publication itself.
Legal documents on a website can help deal with these issues in various ways. A well-drafted website legal notice, policy or terms and conditions document can (amongst other things):
- help a webmaster to comply with his or her legal disclosure obligations
- ensure that the webmaster does not improperly abridge customers' (especially consumers') rights
- ensure that website content is licensed to users on an appropriate basis
- limit (or at least attempt to limit) the website owner's liability in relation to the website
- set out the legal basis upon which products and services are supplied to customers
- remind a website owner of the procedural obligations that the law places upon him or her
- show that the webmaster is serious about legal compliance (important from a marketing perspective)
So, what legal documents do you need for your website? In considering the appropriate documentation for a website, I usually differentiate between:
- the use of the website
- the sale and supply of products and services
- the collection and processing of personal data
Where customers are consumers, the terms and conditions must comply with applicable consumer protection legislation. Where all customers are businesses, there is greater freedom of contract.
Again, the nomenclature is not exact. Documents governing the sale of products may be called terms and conditions of sale or terms of supply or simply terms and conditions. Documents governing the supply of services may be called terms of service, terms of business or service agreements. See for example: ecommerce terms and conditions.