You’ve seen the “Legal” section on websites footer — but what exactly is supposed to be on there?
While working on mood boards, font pairings and styled photos is the fun part of website management, maintaining a strong legal foundation for your website can help you fend off potential headaches and growing pains. So, put these tips on a letterboard/flat-lay/festooned with pumpkin spice and get your site in shape!
Consider the 5 legal documents that every modern website should have:
1. User Terms and Conditions.
A decent “terms and conditions” statement will outline the policies of your website. Yes, it is rather long and boring – but it should also answer questions like: Do users need to register to post content? What are the rules for user-generated content (guidelines for removal, moderation or editing by administrators)? Are there affiliate links on this site? How and when should users credit content and images from the site? While in practice it may be challenging for site owners to enforce all of these provisions without user registration, putting users on notice can only help your fight against infringement, spam, and prohibited use. If you have user-submitted content like a forum, comment section, or other social element, it is imperative that you outline the policies for those shared spaces. Don’t handcuff your ability to control trolls, haters, or bots — set clear expectations for everyone who strolls across your digital real estate. Don’t get hung up on what to call this — just make it is easily accessible for the average user on your site (either in the header or footer). Ideally, it should only be one click away from your main homepage. Do not make it difficult for someone to read or access this.
3. Copyright Notice.
While any piece of writing or artwork is automatically protected under US copyright law as soon as it is created, pairing the proper notice language and symbol can help ward off would-be infringers. You do not have to formally register your content with the US Copyright Office to place the “©” conspicuously on the footer of your website. You can simply make it happen! Manifest your copyright! (cue Michael Scott….I declare…..
bankruptcy COPYRIGHT!!) The symbol should also accompany language like: “All Rights Reserved by [owner — either organization or individual, YEAR].” If you ever need to sue a copyright infringer, having a clear copyright notice helps establish that the infringer had actual notice of your rights — he can’t “play dumb” that he didn’t know it was your stuff. If you make significant changes to the website (redesign or rebranding for example) you should update the date. Put the copyright symbol + language in your footer and make it clear across your site.
If your business treads on licensed fields such as accounting, medicine, mental health, personal training, or even life coaching — you will want to clarify your role in providing specialized advice to the public. Life coaches, wellness advocates, business coaches — there are a lot of different names for people offering these services and the range of credentials, training, and claims runs the spectrum of helpful to hokey. However, what should be crystal clear is that when you are working in an unlicensed capacity — you are NOT representing yourself as a licensed doctor, nutritionist, personal trainer, therapist, counselor or other licensed professional.
Depending on what services and products you offer in your niche — research the professional regulations, training, ethics and code of conduct that go along with the accompanying occupations. Talking to an attorney may also be helpful. You may also want to research your state code on certain licensed professions and examine the language for “unprofessional conduct” or “scope of practice”. Disclaimer language should be in your contracts, your website and promotional or printed materials (including videos). While there are no magic words to ward off any claims, consider something like: “These services are for educational and general purposes and are NOT intended to diagnose or treat any physical or mental illness or to be construed as legal, financial or medical advice. Please consult a licensed service provider in the applicable industry if you have questions.”
5. ADA Compliance.
Ok — so this isn’t one document per se — but if you ignore it you could be on the recieving end of one document you definitely don’t want to see. If your site engages in commerce (and what site doesn’t??), you should make sure that your website is accessible to those with special needs. While this may seem like a web developer concern, as a business owner the buck ultimately stops with you. So own it. Hand-letter it. And take care of it. Any business that is considered a “place of public accommodation” is required to provide equal access to services under the nondiscrimination requirements of Title III of the ADA (American Disabilities Act); this includes virtually every business on the web. Ask your designer/ developer if your site meets the standards found in WCAG 2.0, and if it doesn’t, consider how those elements may impact visitors with disabilities.
Poorly designed sites may run afoul of the ADA and can risk Department of Justice penalties, in addition to being a poor business practice. Consider some tips like using HTML code to describe graphics, and avoiding using flashing or blinking design (unless you want to pretend it’s 2002). As a bonus, most of these guidelines also boost SEO and may decrease your page load time. It’s a win-win. ADA compliance also applies to mobile apps, so review all points of the user experience to make it as accessible as possible.