Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Areas of Potential Liability for Website Owners

When was the last time you read the fine print on the terms and conditions of a website? Most of us don’t take the time to read them, finding the legalese too boring. We just click "I accept" so we can get to the good stuff.

However, as a business owner you don't have the luxury of skipping over that fine print. In fact, those terms and conditions might actually become your strongest defense against frivolous litigation.

This is why companies invest in experienced legal counsel to craft liability language. This will make sure your business is protected even from the casual visitor who might have "issues" with your website content. The goal is to reduce the possibility of a lawsuit.  

Here are some things to consider adding to your own terms and conditions to afford any potential liability claims.

Protect your data. If you intend to sell your email list to a third party (it can be a good source of revenue) then you need to be protected with a strong "personal information" provision that spells out your intentions. Even if you don't plan to use that information you still want to be protected in the likelihood that the data is compromised.

Errors and omissions. This is a clause that is include in most business contracts but should also be included on your website. Suppose you post content with facts or figures that prove to be inaccurate or become out of date? Hopefully, you can correct that when notified but until then you shouldn't be held as negligent for a simple oversight.

Unknown malware. There is no telling if or when your website could be attacked by an outside entity until it is too late. If a visitor picks up a "virus" by visiting your site should you be held responsible? Not if you have the right kind of language in your terms and conditions.

Transmission problems. If your server goes down and a customer's own business or service is interrupted, you shouldn't be held liable. Crashes will happen and you'll need to be protected especially when the loss of data could occur.

Copyright infringement. You should do your best not to engage in any copyright infringement but that doesn't mean it can't occur. Suppose you have a forum where a user posts something that is protected. Are you liable? What if someone considers material as defamatory? You can't predict everyone's reaction to all that you'll be posting but you can protect yourself from those reactions.

Confiscation of data. There may be instances where a user's personal information is subjected to foreign government control. In the U.S. there are many heated discussions about this very issue as it pertains to investigations sanctioned by the Patriot Act. You can let your users know they might be subjected to these types of date mining through no fault of your company.

Fortunately, businesses have worked out many of these issues in their own terms and conditions language. You can take advantage of that by obtaining boilerplates of these provisions. You'll still need a lawyer to review them before you post on your website but using boilerplate language can reduce the costs of writing up this liability protection.