Website Terms of Use For Your Site

If you are starting a website, part of your preparation process must involve defining the legal relationship between you and the visitors to your site. Put another way, you need customer website terms and conditions, also known as terms of use.Terms of Use for your website

Customization Is Critical

It is incredibly important to understand that terms of use act as a legal contract between you and the visitors to your site. Yes, a contract. Given this, it is incredibly important that the contract be written in a manner that protects you and your business to the greatest extent possible. 

“Ah, can’t I just use generic terms for my site?”

Yes – if you have a strange desire to be sued.

Generic website terms are a recipe for disaster. Consider all the different types of sites you visit over a week. Are they all the same? Of course, not. A social media site such as Facebook needs terms covering a variety of topics related to the conduct of users of the site. Issues unique to a social media site that must be addressed in the terms include codes of conduct limiting acts such as bullying, trolling and harassment.

Contrast a social media site with the terms of a dating site. Does a dating site have a duty to screen members? What if a member sexually assaults or starts stalking another member they meet on the dating site? The terms of use need to cover these issues to reduce the risk of potential litigation.

How about an e-commerce site selling shoes? The terms need to be customized to cover topics such as:

  • The refund and return policy;
  • A defective product policy;
  • A product exchange policy; and
  • Procedures for handling the discovery of counterfeit goods.

How about a website hosting video content uploaded by visitors? Copyright infringement is going to be a huge issue because visitors will upload songs, photos, videos and who knows what without authorization from the copyright holder. A detailed DMCA policy needs to be addressed in the terms of use including the listing of a DMCA agent. [Find an agent here.] The business and legal counsel must then develop a written repeat infringer policy and detailed procedure for handling any copyright claims. Without these steps being taken, your business becomes liable for the copyright infringement committed by your users.

Simply put, a generic set of terms is no longer a viable option for online businesses. The law has advanced sufficiently that is critical you now take the time and, yes, expense to create terms unique to the characteristics of your site. As the old oil change commercials used to suggest – you can pay me a little now to prepare your terms or a lot later to defend you in a lawsuit.

Borrowing Terms

You might be tempted to copy the term of use of another site. Doing so is not a smart move. First off, a lawyer wrote those terms and owns the copyright to them. Do you really think it is smart to infringe on the copyright of counsel? Only if you enjoy being sued.

The second problem with borrowing the terms of another site is you simply don’t know if those terms are written correctly or cover issues relevant to your website. For example, Zappos.com is a huge online retailer. Borrowing the terms from Zappos would seem to be okay if you also are launching a retail site, right? Wrong. A court in Nevada recently invalidated the Zappos terms because of poor drafting. If a multi-million dollar site has incorrect terms, can you really rely on the accuracy of the terms of any site online? Even if the terms are upheld, would you really want to follow the very liberal one-year return policy offered by Zappos to its customers?

In Closing

Website terms and conditions play a critical role in defining the legal relationship between you and the visitors to your website, app or other platform. Make sure that legal relationship is written in a manner that protects your business to the greatest extent possible. Contact me today for a free consultation.

Richard Chapo, Esq.