3 Legal Must Haves for Your Website (…from a lawyer)

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So, you started an online business. Maybe you already created (or paid someone to create) your very own website. Possibly, you even already have paying clients. You are up and running! Congrats! But wait, is your business legally protected? Is your website legally compliant? I know what you’re thinking: Hmmm…how important is this really? I mean, lawyers are soooo expensive and if you are like most small start ups or entrepreneurs, your budget is tight. The legal stuff can wait til you’re making good money, right? WRONG. As an attorney and a business owner, I had to make these tough calls for myself as well.

Why you need to legally protect your website from the very beginning…

Starting a business is hard. The time, the energy, the sweat, the worry, the stress, the money! All of it adds up. You need legal protection from the very start up of your business to avoid putting in all that effort for nothing. Because, here’s the thing, one seemingly simple legal mistake could cost you your entire business.

If you are like me, you became an entrepreneur partially because you wanted more control. Control over your time, control over your income and control over your life. And I’m here to tell you that having that control is so freeing!

But as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I need to share that there’s one thing still mostly out of your control as a business owner — legal risk and legal consequences. Anyone can be sued at anytime. Businesses are exposed more and in turn, are more susceptible to lawsuits. Additionally, there are a ton of regulations out there that govern business and what a business is permitted or not permitted to do online. No matter how small your business, your website and online presence is still subject to these regulations. Regulations that if violated will subject your business to monetary fines (up to $24 million dollars or 4 times your business’s annual revenue!!!) and maybe even shut down your website. Do I have your attention now?

Before you run for the hills to avoid the lawyer coming at you, there is good news too. With a little planning and a small (but necessary) investment, you can mitigate (lower) your risk of negative legal consequences. There are 3 things you can add to your website TODAY that will act to protect your business, mitigate risk and ensure that you are in compliance with the laws regarding websites. Even better news, you can obtain these 3 things without hiring a lawyer and having to pay those expensive hourly rates. Read on to find out more…

3 Legal Sections for Your Website You Cannot Ignore and Why

Did you know there are some portions of your website that are non-negotiable as far as the law is concerned? Yep, it’s true. These include a Privacy Policy, a Disclaimer and Terms of Use. Go check out the websites you visit often. I promise you will see all 3 of these components in some form or fashion readily accessible on those sites.

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1. Privacy Policy: Why do you need a Privacy Policy? The simple answer, the law requires it. At least 2 laws specifically require a conspicuous privacy policy on websites, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Online Privacy Protection Act (CalOPPA). See https://gdpr.eu/ and http://consumercal.org/california-online-privacy-protection-act-caloppa/#sthash.0FdRbT51.dpuf for all the legalese on these 2 regulations. A bit of light reading…LOL

Here’s what stands out to me from these regulations…violating the GDPR may subject your business to administrative fines up to $24 million dollars or 4 times your business’s annual revenue. Violating the CalOPPA subjects your business to possible fines ranging from $2500 – $7500 per violation. In addition to these fines, these regulations give private consumers the right to sue your business and seek monetary damages for some violations. I’d say that’s some big risk!

But another reason to include a privacy policy is to earn trust and credibility with your followers. Letting them know things up front, like how you collect personal information and what you do with that information, lets your followers know you are legit, you care about their rights and you intend to run your business in the right way. Check out the link at the end of this blog for a lawyer prepared Privacy Policy template.

2. Disclaimer: Second on the list of the 3 legal sections you need on your website is the disclaimer. Some people may call this a disclosure. Disclaimer, disclosure. Tomato, Tomahto. Both serve essentially the same purpose – to legally protect you regarding the content you post on your website.

You need a disclaimer to mitigate the risk of someone relying on information found on your website which in turn could result in damage or negative consequences to them. Whether your website content centers on parenting, health and wellness, recipes or fashion, someone, somewhere will likely take your word as the holy grail and rely on it.

Picture this: You run a cooking blog.  One of your followers burns themselves while cooking your recipe.  Now, it’s very likely this follower incurred a burn due to her own negligence or just happenstance.  But she claims she followed your blog to the “t” and if not for the instructions on your blog, she would not have gotten burned. Sound like nonsense? Believe me I’ve seen lawsuits filed over facts even more nonsensical than these.  Without a disclaimer, you won’t have much to protect you from the liability that may result.  It’s this type of risk that a disclaimer or disclosure is intended to avoid.

3. Terms of Use: Finally, your website must contain a Terms of Use or Terms and Conditions section.  An effective Terms of Use acts as a legally binding agreement between your website and it’s users (people who access it).  The Terms of Use set forth the rules and regulations that govern use of your website.  It notifies your users what will happen if they violate your Terms of Use or use your website and/or the information provided on the website in a manner which violates your agreement.

The Terms of Use also acts to further protect you and your business from claims by a website user or consumer.  It allows you to define what is permitted and not permitted regarding conduct on your website.  This is also the section that contains all that legalese that non-lawyers love (insert wink).  You can require binding arbitration as the means to resolve any legal dispute.  You may specify the jurisdiction in which any legal action must be brought, for example your jurisdiction versus Alaska where your website user might reside.

Your Terms of Use should also incorporate the other 2 sections discussed above, the Privacy Policy and Disclaimer.  This covers all your bases. 

There you have it….the 3 legal must haves for your website, from a lawyer.  So, how do you obtain these 3 necessities today so you can update your website to ensure legal compliance?  Head on over to my Legal Boutique to instantly download, easy to use, do-it-yourself legal templates including a Privacy Policy, Disclaimer and Terms of Use.  You may purchase these a la carte or as a bundle to save.  Within minutes you will be able to create these 3 legal must haves specific to your business and website!!  Legally protect yourself and your business TODAY!

DISCLAIMER: NOTHING FOUND THROUGH OR CONTAINED ON THIS SITE CONSTITUTES LEGAL ADVICE. Hustle with Heart is not a law firm. Hustle with Heart is not your lawyer.  It is not a substitute for a lawyer.  Communications between you and Hustle with Heart, while protected by the Site’s Privacy Policy, are NOT protected by any legal privilege, including and not limited to the attorney-client privilege or work product privilege/doctrine. Reference our Terms of Use for more information.

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