Hi, I’m attorney Brittany Ratelle, and I help online business owners get legally legit. Today I’m going to teach you the 4 must-have legal requirements for your website. These four documents will get your website legally legit, protected, and ready to move forward and help you in your business.
4 must-have legal requirements for your website –
website footer compliance documents
Now, your website is an essential resource for a lot of different reasons. Many people think that you only need special legal things on your website if you are selling from your website. It is true that there are additional things you for sure want to have on your website if you are selling products (whether that includes physical products, digital products, programs, memberships, or online courses). But, there are still some legal must-haves even if you are not selling anything from your website.
This could be the case if your website is acting more as a portfolio, home base, blog, or just a center of content and you make money from ad revenue. Even if you don’t monetize your website at all, it’s still likely that there are certain things you need to have on your website. So, let’s get into what you need to have.
Disclaimer: As a reminder, while I am a licensed attorney, I practice in Utah, Idaho, and with intellectual property practice. I have clients all over the U.S., but I’m not your attorney, and this is not official legal advice. If you have any questions about what we talk about today, or in any of my other videos, content, or resources, please consult with a local attorney in your jurisdiction.
There is no federal privacy law in the U.S. yet (as of January 2023). However, there is an international law GDPR, which is a privacy law for the entire European Union that most people want to comply with. It only takes one European Union citizen to wander on your website and try to purchase something or browse around, and you need to be compliant with that law. Technically, you could be dragged into their court system and face fines if you’re not complying with them.
Privacy Laws in the U.S.
The second reason is that U.S. states are caring more about privacy than they used to. The trend from my perspective is only going to go in that direction. California has a pretty comprehensive privacy law that has a lot of things in common with GDPR. And there are four other U.S. states that will have privacy laws live and active on their books by the end of this calendar year 2023.
Website Legal Requirement #2: Disclaimer/Disclosure
The second requirement for your website is a disclaimer/disclosure based on what you sell and how you sell it. If you are a professional, it’s likely that you are familiar with disclosures already. It means that you have to be clear about the limits of your expertise or any advice that you’re giving, and when you’re not giving advice or entering into a client or professional relationship. This is especially important if you are offering advice about health, wellness, financial, tax, or legal issues.
This also applies if you are selling from your website or if you have affiliate links or marketing that talks about how much money people are going to make from your program. A disclosure is necessary if you talk about any earnings. It also matters if you have sponsored content on your website.
If you are an influencer or a content creator, and you partner with people or have sponsored content, all of that needs to be clearly disclosed on your website. It should be obvious that there’s a financial relationship. That’s the guidance by the Federal Trade Commission, which is the U.S. government body that controls this area.
Website Legal Requirement #3: Terms and Conditions
The terms should also contain things like your shipping policy or refund policy. It should also have information about copyright. If you have content on your website (especially if you’re selling that content as your main product), it’s critical for these terms to be really clear. We need to set up clear boundaries.
All websites should have a DMCA notice. That’s basically a short little snippet of text that explains that if there’s something on your website that belongs to someone else, and they think that you are hosting infringing content of theirs, they can contact you to take care of it. You won’t have any liability and won’t be in trouble as long as you take care of it, according to that procedure, in a reasonable amount of time. It’s a notice everyone needs to have on their website.
Include the Correct Legal Name
Your terms should also include the legal name of your business. You want to make it really clear to people that you are operating your business separately from yourself. And “If there’s a problem, yo! I’ll solve it!” Actually, distinction: sorry, Vanilla Ice.
If there’s a problem, my business will solve it because your problem is with my business and my business is operating the website.
It’s okay if you have a boring name or a legal name for your business, like Smith Holdings, LLC. But that should be in the footer of your website. It should be a part of your copyright statement. It should show up in your terms, making it clear that Smith Holdings is operating this website. It’s fine if you have a DBA, meaning a separate Doing Business As (a trade name, business name, or a fictitious name that the public knows you as). That can be at the top near the website branding. We want to make it really clear what the legal connection is (that legal bridge between what the public knows you as and what they’re purchasing). Be straightforward about who the legal business is or the legal entity behind what the customer sees.
Keep Your Personal Assets Protected
We want to make sure it’s really clear on your website in case you need to show evidence if there is a dispute. It’s another piece of evidence that you can use to say, “Hey, you are not allowed to pierce the corporate veil.” That sounds really scary.
Basically, it’s when someone is allowed to get to you and your personal money. We don’t want that to happen. We want that LLC boundary to stay up nice and tight and secure. So we want to make it really clear that the business is operating the website, not me personally (despite any other information they may see). All of those things should be in your terms.
Website Legal Requirement #4: Copyright Notice
Last, but not least, tool number four is a copyright notice. I’m sure you’ve seen these on the bottom of websites. Ideally, they should have the date on which the website was first published and then a dash of when it was last published or updated (i.e. 2016-2023 ©). Sometimes people just put the current year on there and that can cover everything. There are some disagreements between copyright attorneys about what should be at the bottom of your website. But at the very least, put the most recent year on there. Some of those auto-populate and website builders do that.
Make sure to also include the copyright symbol: ©, and then the name of your company. Hopefully, you’ve listened to me or other legal professionals who are giving you good advice and you’ve set up an LLC, S-Corp, C-Corp, or a nonprofit for your company. You’re going to put that legal name there because, again, that is who owns all this awesome stuff that’s on your website.
Reserve those Rights
Don’t forget to add the magic words, “all rights reserved.” This means that whatever we have, I own it. I am the big kahuna, the queen of the rock. I am reserving all the rights. And if you want to talk about using any of the rights (meaning any of the stuff on my website: text, audio, video, pictures, ideas, etc.), come to me. We will see if I want to arrange that, and how much that will cost, and what that will look like. Despite anything else to the contrary, I’m reserving all my rights. They belong to me unless we say otherwise.
You don’t technically have to post a copyright statement. The law changed in the 1970s. But it doesn’t mean that you lose copyright control if you haven’t had one on your website up until now. You have a copyright. As soon as you create something, it comes out of your head, and it’s written down on something, you own the copyright to it. However, it’s a lot easier for you to enforce those rights with a copyright statement.
If we jumped through some hoops and we make it clear to someone that you are aware of your copyrights, and they’re aware of the copyrights, someone can’t claim that they didn’t know the website or the information on it belongs to you. If they check your footer, it should be right there. We want to make it very difficult for people to argue that they didn’t know.
Let’s put our basic tools and boundaries in place. We love boundaries. Boundaries are sexy. Let’s make sure we have them in place for our business.
Recap: What are the 4 must-have legal requirements for your website?
- Terms and Conditions
- Copyright Statement
We also want to make sure to have an email opt-in. That means if you have an email newsletter where you give out freebies, make sure people know they’re opting into that that by putting their email address into a form. You want to have a clear opt-in and possibly a cookie notice if you need it.
Now, you might be saying, “Hey, this sounds really complicated and I’m stressing out. I don’t know if my website is protected. Maybe my website developer or my VA put this up. I don’t know if I have the stuff I need on my website.” Don’t worry. I got you covered.
Find What You Need at Creative Contracts
Just head to my shop, and get the website legal bundle that has all of these things that you need in here. I update it regularly. If the law changes, I update it. And if the law changes after you purchase it, I will email you the updates and make sure that you are doing what you need to have substantial compliance with this law.
You can keep your website legal, protected, moving forward, selling, moving, and grooving. Head on over to my website and get yourself covered by picking up the website legal bundle. You can cross all this stuff off your list and do it in an easy-peasy way with color codes, video instructions, and guides to make sure you know what’s in your site terms. That way, if anyone has a question, you can explain it to them.
I don’t believe in fine print that people can’t explain. I don’t believe in gotcha phrases here at Creative Contracts and BrittanyRatelle.com. We want to make sure that we can serve people and be clear. And we think legal should just be a tool that we can use in the scaffolding of our business. This way we can set up good boundaries and good relationships with the people that we’re serving and doing business with. Let’s make sure we can do that clearly and that our website is just a piece of that puzzle.
Check out my YouTube Channel
Thanks so much for joining me today and getting these tips on the 4 must-have legal requirements for your website. If you haven’t liked and subscribed to my YouTube channel, make sure to do that. I’ve got lots of great info for you. This post and video are part of a foundational series I have on getting your business legally legit. If you haven’t checked out the other videos, make sure you do.
I talk about how to choose which entity structure you should use for your business (LLC vs. S-Corp vs. sole prop). I also teach you how to make sure your business doesn’t look like a hobby and it looks like a real business. Also, I’m sharing the introduction for how to draft and negotiate contracts like a lawyer in case you don’t have a lawyer in your back pocket. Thanks so much for joining me, catch you on the flip side.
Here’s a little bonus legal hack: while you should definitely have this text in the terms and conditions or the footer of your website, you can also include it in the checkout process. If you’re selling from your website (and that means selling anything physical or digital), make sure that your customers are also consenting to the terms on checkout.
Most of the e-commerce platforms and different website plugins are allowing this capability pretty easily. So check your terms or your settings. You should be able to link them so that when people check out, they are required to check a little box saying that they agree to the terms. Make sure that that box is not pre-checked. Those are called shrink-wrap agreements or click-wrap agreements, and they are enforceable up to a certain limit. Of course, there are always going to be lawyers who are going to fight about that.
Add Your Terms to the Checkout Process
I have specific terms that are in the language that you should have linked in there for masterminds, online courses, digital products, other online groups, memberships, or subscriptions behind a paywall. Make sure that whatever your customers are agreeing to purchase, those boundaries are going to fit you and your business. The boundaries are there to make sure that you and your customers can work well together now and in the future.
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