Whether you are delivering government information or selling shoes, how your website looks and works is of vital importance, but it also pays to make sure you 'dot your Is' and 'cross your Ts' by making sure it meets current legal requirements.

If you're planning to launch a new website, or you currently run one, you will already be familiar with the extensive planning and thought that goes into even the smallest of projects. 

It is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of seeing your project come to life and forget about unimportant details such as terms and conditions, disclaimers and privacy policies. No one cares about those things anyway, right?

Wrong! If proof were needed that the small print is important on websites, you only need to read the extensive (and highly critical) articles about Facebook's privacy settings. In fact it's crucial to make sure your website carries the right legal information, and failure to do so could leave you open to criticism, or worse, prosecution, under any number of laws ranging from data protection, to disability discrimination to the Companies Act.

The subjects of eCommerce and international law are complex and if you are in any doubt about the law as it relates to your website you should seek guidance from a specialised lawyer or advocate.

The information below is intended as a general background to consider before running a website.

What type of information should my website contain?

The exact nature of the information you make available will depend on the nature of your website. Do you intend to write a personal blog, run an online shop or promote a government body?

For example, you may consider that a personal blog would be unlikely to challenge any laws in the United Kingdom. Reminding users about Intellectual Property Rights however may be of significant interest to you if you are publishing material which could be stolen or appropriated by others.

Outlined below are some areas to consider when it comes to planning what you might need to cover on your own website.

Company details

Registered companies, regardless of what they do, should display:

  • Company registration number
  • Place of registration
  • 'geographic' address (registered address for a company is sufficient)
  • Email address (a contact form is not enough)
  • Details of any memberships of trade organisations or associations
  • VAT number, even if the website is not transactional

Contrary to popular belief it is not necessary to include this information on every page, as long as it is easily found on the website, however it is recommended that you include this information on email footers as business emails are then classified as 'business letters'.

Privacy statement

A privacy policy, or privacy statement, should be used by any website that collects personal information from its users - which could be as seemingly trivial as a name and an email address. It should describe what happens to the information that is submitted and explain what users should do if they wish to 'opt out' in the future. If you have a contact form, or a newsletter sign up, then you should definitely have a privacy statement which clearly outlines what happens to the information users submit.

If you do intend to pass on the information to others or email the user with details of special offers etc, then they must agree to this at the time they submit their details.

A privacy statement might also include information about 'cookies'. Cookies are identifying files downloaded to your computer that allows a website to recognise you next time you visit that website. Cookies allow websites like Amazon to recommend products you might be interested in and generally make your life on the web easier, although they are also sometimes cited as an invasion of privacy.

According to EU Anti-Spam law, you have to tell users of your website that you are using cookies (if you are), and explain how to disable them in their browser so they can opt out.

Pricing, Advertising and Trade Descriptions

For companies that sell online, it is important to provide clear and up to date pricing. It should also be unambiguous as to whether the price shown includes VAT, delivery or any other charges. 'Low frills' airline Ryanair has hit the headlines several times since 2005 following complaints from customers that prices shown on the website were misleading.

Similarly, from March 1st 2011 online advertising will be subject to the same codes that govern other types of public advertising, so it is important to make sure that any advertising or promotion that is carried on your website is not misleading. The Trade Descriptions Act also applies to goods sold on the internet, so goods and services should be described accurately.

Other requirements for those selling online can be found …?

Web Accessibility and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)

Part III of the DDA, which can be downloaded from the Equality and Human Rights, explains that websites must meet the same requirements as the physical premises of a company.

Copyright and IPR

The good news about copyright is that anyone who writes or otherwise creates something original has automatic rights to that material through international copyright law. However, if you reproduce images or text from someone else's website you also need to be aware that this would count as an infringement of copyright if you had not previously sought permission from that website's owner.

 

If you commission photography or illustration for your website, be aware that the creator of this work may resell the images elsewhere unless your contract states otherwise.

 

Conclusion

The law as it relates to websites can be complex, however for the most part it is common sense and there is a vast amount of additional information available from online business resources.

 

For further information:

www.out-law.com

http://www.seqlegal.com/legal-services/website-law