“Attention, Internet Business Owners!”: Your Website Terms and Conditions

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq.

Nina L. Kaufman, Esq., owner of Ask The Business Lawyer, is an award-winning business attorney, speaker, and Entrepreneur Magazine online contributor. She saves consulting and professional services companies time, money, and aggravation by serving as their outsourced legal counsel.

Posted on October 30, 2013 in IP & Social Media

They’re there, even if they’re hidden and don’t smack you in the face. They’re on Amazon.com, Shopping.Yahoo.com, and even less-known names like SnuggleMe.com (pet products). “They” are website terms and conditions; your website should have them too.

Like the store P.A. system that announced “Attention, Kmart shoppers,” “Attention Internet Business Owners” is meant to call attention to great deals – the deals you make with your online customers that is. Website terms and conditions are more than just fuel for attorneys to go on intellectual joy rides. The same reasons that contracts are important for face-to-face business exchanges, also applies in the wild world of cyberspace. You want to be sure that (1) you get what you asked for, (2) at the price that you asked for it, and (3) you have recourse if you’re not satisfied. Those basic principles apply regardless of whether you’re selling sales training services directly to Serena, or promoting your pottery online to Patricia in Portland. In both cases, you want to be sure your customers clearly understand.

Internet shopping also raises a number of legal issues that you don’t necessarily see to the same degree in the “bricks and mortar” world. Because Internet law is so new, and therefore so unclear as to how it will be interpreted, leaving matters open to chance could be a risky proposition indeed.

What can you expect to see? Terms and conditions don’t always go by the generic name “terms and conditions.” Sometimes, terms are divided into subject areas on separate web pages, like “privacy” or “returns” or “disclaimers.” The breadth of terms you may need depends on the nature of your business. If your website is a brochure-type site that simply promotes your own services, you may not need as robust a list as a site like Home Shopping Network (hsn.com), which sells other people’s products. Consider the following:

Privacy Policy/Privacy Notices

  • What the privacy policy covers
  • Information: how collected and used
  • Parental consent for purchases by children
  • Information Sharing and Disclosure – will the personal information be rented, shared, or sold? If so, under what circumstances?
  • Cookies: will you set them on customers’ computers?
  • Editing and deleting account information
  • Confidentiality and Security
  • Changes to privacy policy
  • Contact information for customer questions
  • Security of information and disclaimer
  • Examples of information collected

Legal/Terms of Service

  • Acceptance: using the site means the customer accepts the terms
  • Description of service
  • Registration obligations (e.g., representations that customer is of legal age, that information supplied is truthful)
  • Conduct for use of site (e.g., if membership site where people can upload information to the site, content must not be abusive, vulgar, infringing, illegal, etc.)
  • Indemnity (if customer violates your policy, customer will pay for damages and attorneys’ fees if you are sued for it)
  • Termination
  • No responsibility for what appears or occurs on 3rd party sites
  • Disclaimer of warranties (customers use the site at their own risk)
  • Limitation of liability (you have no responsibility for customer losses except to the extent – should you choose – of refunding the purchase price or replacing the items)
  • Choice of law and forum (where disputes will be resolved)
  • Statute of limitations

Payment and Returns

  • Pricing and price changes
  • Return policies
  • Payment terms (forms of payment that are acceptable)
  • Shipping charges, taxes, and title
  • Satisfaction guarantees (if applicable; see Return policies)

Copyright and Intellectual Property Policies

  • Notice and procedure for making claims of copyright or intellectual property infringement
  • Proprietary rights in copyrights, trademarks, and patents (if applicable)
  • License to access (but not reproduce) site
  • Right to terminate accounts of IP infringers on the server
  • Permissions for right to use IP on the site
  • Electronic communications (consent to communicate by email)

Wow — what a list!! Now you see why website terms and conditions are an important part of your arsenal of protection – and why it’s not wise to put these together yourself. These provisions can vary depending on the nature of the product or service being offered, so make sure to review your terms with an attorney so that they are relevant for your business and provide you with the protection you’ll need!

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