The terms and conditions for a business website can often be found after scrolling to the bottom of the website’s page, or through a “pop-up” window that requests you to accept the terms and conditions before proceeding. For a business website, listing the terms and conditions is a way to protect the business and prevent liability in a number of situations.

What are the “Terms and Conditions”?

Terms and conditions of a business website generally refer to the legal relationship between the company and its customers. The content included in the terms and conditions depends on what type of business is being conducted, the data it collects, the functions of the website, and more.

You might see a notification of “cookies” that require you to accept or acknowledge that the website will store “cookies” on your computer. This is often harmless, but due to stricter internet regulation most websites are obligated to notify you.

The cookie will be a way for the website to recognize you if you return to their page again, and can allow the page to retain any information that you might have input last time. Typically it can be any items left in the shopping cart that you did not purchase.

What is a Website’s Privacy Policy?

Websites that gather information from visitors should include a privacy policy in the terms and conditions section. Personal information that may be gathered could include the name, address, phone number, and credit card information of visitors to the site.

It is important that the privacy policy details exactly how this information will be used, and also how it will not be used. For instance, if the business sells the information of its customers to a marketing company, the privacy policy should inform readers of this point in the privacy policy.

Do Websites Need to Mention Information About Sales and Refunds?

E-commerce businesses that sell products to consumers should include a legal notice in the terms and conditions regarding sales, returns, refunds, and credit card billing. For instance, if a company allows customers to return un-used merchandise up to thirty days after purchase, this policy should be included.

Other disclaimers should also be included, and depend on what the business sells. For example, if the business sells porcelain dolls, it should inform customers that it is not liable for losses that may occur from breakage if the customer sends it back to the store.

Do Websites Need to Include Any Copyright or Trademarks?

Business websites should include copyright and trademark notices at the bottom of each web page. Copyright is a type of intellectual property protection that protects original works of authorship. A copyright notice protects a business from intellectual property thieves who attempt to copy the website, and may also help the business win more damages in a lawsuit.

What is Limited Use and How Does it Protect Minors?

Websites that are aimed at younger audiences need to adhere to special rules. If the audience is under 13 years old, the website must follow the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and the COPPA Rule, which can be found on the website of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

For websites that sell items that you would normally need to show identification for in a store, it is a good idea to have an age verification pop-up window to prevent minors from accessing those items. In California, Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill into law that requires online retailers to verify their customer’s age if they are selling a product that has an age restriction.

California’s new law will go into effect in January, 2019. Though it is a state law, it is likely to have far-reaching effects, and could become a de facto national standard.

How Can Websites Limit Personal Liability?

Websites that allow users to post original content, or that host a space for chatting or forums, should have a clause in the terms and conditions that limits their liability for libelous, defamatory, or offensive posts made by other users. The most common methods for limiting liability are as follows:

  • Monitor and Remove Any Offensive or Slanderous Content: Websites that allow users to post content and discussion should be monitored regularly. If anything questionable is posted, it should be removed immediately.
    • Keep in mind that any complaints that it’s a violation of the poster’s freedom of speech typically will not apply, as freedom of speech is a right a person has against the government and not another private entity.
  • Remove Postings that Have Been Reported: If users are complaining about the postings of others, remove those posts immediately. 
    • Review the posts, and if after investigating and nothing is found to be offensive, defamatory, or libelous, they may be re-posted at the business owner’s discretion.
  • Disclaim Liability: Including a disclaimer within the terms and conditions that the website does not necessarily approve of or endorse any postings or statements made by third parties on the website, may lessen the business’s liability. Though it may lessen liability, a disclaimer does not automatically release the business from liability.

Do I Need to Consult a Lawyer to Create the Terms and Conditions for My Website?

The legal language used in terms and conditions is specific and necessary. It is important to consult a business and commercial law attorney to ensure your business’s liability is airtight and all-encompassing. Due to stricter requirements for net neutrality in certain parts of the United States, as well as the world, many websites must be able to comply with a wide variety of requirements.

Contact a lawyer today, and safeguard the future of your online business with the knowledge and know-how of an experienced attorney.