I have a new website. What laws do I need to know about?

I’ve just finished making a new website, my first. Before I publish the site, I want to be sure that it complies with all the relevant laws. How can I work this out? Do I need to have the website checked by a lawyer?

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Alasdair Taylor's Answer

There is no easy answer to these questions.

A lot of different areas of law may affect a website.  The exact areas of law, and the exact way in which they affect the website, will depend upon the website itself.  To give a few examples:

  • any non-domestic website that collects or otherwise processes personal data should comply with the provisions of data protection legislation
  • any website operated by a company or similar entity will need to comply with the disclosure requirements of companies law
  • if a website allows users to publish content, then the website owner may be liable in relation to such content (under e.g. the law of copyright, libel, trade marks, confidence and so on), and steps should be taken to manage such potential liabilities
  • ecommerce websites – that is, sites that enable the sale and purchase of goods or services – should comply with ecommerce law
  • where an ecommerce website deals with consumers, then consumer protection legislation will apply
  • many types of business (e.g. financial services, gambling, pharmacies, recruitment agencies, and so on) are subject to special legislation

You could fill a library with books containing the law that affects websites, and spend a lifetime studying the subject.

Given the range and complexity of the laws that may affect a website, in an ideal world all website owners would take legal advice before publishing a website.  However, legal advice can be expensive, and the cost of obtaining advice can be disproportionate in the context of an untested business.

One way to reduce legal costs is to use template legal documents.  The disadvantage of these is that you have to take responsibility for adapting the documents for your particular website.

If in your case the costs seem disproportionate, then you as business owner should research the relevant laws.  For a non-lawyer, the best way to do this is using practical legal books supplemented with online resources.  Although you won’t usually be able to answer all the questions, you should get an idea of the real legal risks associated with your business, and you will be in a better position to decide where professional advice is needed.

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