Why would you need to update website legal documents? Bear with me here for a moment. The answer has to do with two classifications of laws that are always evolving – statutory and common law.
Statutory law refers to legislation passed by a government. In the United States, this breaks down to the federal and state governments. Federal law trumps state law if the same topic is at issue. Regardless, online businesses are expected to comply with both sets of laws unless or until an appellate court rules differently.
Common law refers to published decisions handed down through the legal system. Two parties go to trial over a dispute. One side wins and the losing party appeals to a higher court, which is generally referred to as an “appellate court.” If the appeals court issues a written decision, other courts in the same jurisdiction must follow it. Appellate courts issue new rulings by the thousands each year. As a website owner, you must comply with those decisions that apply to your business.
The federal government passes few laws these days thanks to the political gridlock in Congress. For better or worse, state governments have rushed to fill this void when it comes to the web.
A. California Laws
California also issued a new “eraser” law that requires websites to put in place a mechanism for minors to “erase” any posts made on a site. This new law goes into effect on January 1, 2015. Online businesses should be modifying their sites now to make sure this functionality exists as well as preparing appropriate modifications to all privacy policies on those websites.
B. Court Decisions
Then we have common law court decisions. The legal system moves very slowly. Three to five years may pass from the time a lawsuit is first filed until an appellate court decision is published. As odd as it sounds, this means many of the legal issues we see online are still in the early stages of being ruled upon by the appellate courts. As new decisions come down, website legal documents must be updated. The True.com dating site litigation presents a perfect example of why this is the case.
Recall the cliche of “no good deed goes unpunished”? Well, one could argue many online businesses are seeing the cliche come true. The problem is a statement commonly used in privacy policies that reads along the lines of “We do not share, rent or sell your personal information to others.” While the exact language may differ from policy to policy, the intent is to convey to users that their personal information is safe.
What could be objectionable about such a simple statement?
C. Privacy Promises
As you can image, the ruling in the True.com case was a bit of a shocker. Online businesses rushed to update their website legal documents to reflect this new paradigm. Did you?
The Nature of Law
Contact me today for a free review of the legal documents on your website.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.