Tuesday, 27 October 2015

5 Legal Must-Haves for Your Website

get your site's legal house in order
Most of your customers don’t walk around handing out their credit card information and home addresses to shady characters on the street.
In fact, most people these days wouldn’t even give their email addresses to those they don’t really know. Ditto on the Internet.
Before people will spend money, post comments, opt in to your mailing list, or take any action you want them to do when they arrive at your website, they need to feel safe.
Safety leads to trust, trust to loyalty, loyalty to purchases and shares.
Having the right legal language can get you to that place of trust with your visitors. It will also protect your profits.
Oh, and by the way, some of that legal language is required by law.
Here are five major elements your website needs in order to be legally legit.

1. Privacy Policy

What it is
Your Privacy Policy is a tool that helps you build trust with your website visitors.
It tells your customers exactly what personal information you collect from them and what you do with it.
It’s one of those elements required by law.
Why your site needs one
There are two major reasons why your site needs a Privacy Policy.
Federal law, and in some cases state law, governs the manner in which you interact with your website visitors.
For example, California requires website owners who collect personal information (names, email addresses, etc.) from website visitors situated in California to have a valid Privacy Policy posted on their websites.
Since we content marketers have opt-in forms on our websites — and since none of us have the ability to filter out visitors from California — we’re all required to have Privacy Policies.
The second reason your site needs a Privacy Policy — and to some of us, this reason may be more important than the first — is that Privacy Policies help you build trust with your potential customers.
When you tell your visitors what information you collect from them and how you use it, it gives them confidence that your site is a safe and trustworthy place to play, share, and buy.
What it should contain
The contents of your Privacy Policy depend on the particular law in question and, to some extent, the nature of your website.
This snappy list will get you started:
  • An explanation of the information you collect and what it is used for
  • How people can access and change any information previously collected and/or opt out of mailing lists
  • How you will notify visitors of changes in your Privacy Policy
  • A statement about age restrictions — this one is super important and usually involves restricting the site to individuals who are either 13 and older or 18 and older
  • A statement about any “do not track” signals used
  • A statement about how you share any information you collect (Side note: If you use email marketing software or payment software from a third party, then you do share your customer’s information with a third party. A trustedthird party is still a third party, so be sure to say so in your Privacy Policy.)

2. Terms and Conditions

What it is
Terms and Conditions are a contract you make with the visitors to your site.
They set out the behaviors you expect from your visitors as well as what your visitors can expect from you.
Why your site needs one
Because, as we lawyers like to say, Terms and Conditions save asses.
Solidly drafted Terms and Conditions can limit your overall legal liability, protect your valuable intellectual property, and help you collect payments on time.
Without Terms and Conditions, any disputes arising from the use of, or purchases from, your site will likely be more messy and expensive.
What it should contain
As with Privacy Policies, the contents of your Terms and Conditions are dictated by your particular business.
Here’s a list of what your Terms and Conditions should (probably) contain (at the very least):
  • Where and how disputes will be handled (pick a state, any state …)
  • Limitations on warranty and damages
  • Intellectual Property policy, including how yours can and cannot be used and how you may use the intellectual property visitors post on your site
  • Your right to refuse service, including when and how you can exercise it
  • How purchases are processed, if you are a retailer
  • Refund policy (more on that below) and shipping policy, if applicable
  • How changes in your terms will be communicated
  • Disclaimers, if you give advice in certain fields like health, nutrition, finance, law, etc., including disclosures about any licenses you hold, or do not hold, within your field
  • Comment policy (more on that below)

3. Refund Policy

What it is
Although a Refund Policy is most likely a part of your Terms and Conditions, it’s such an important little bugger that we will discuss it separately.
It might be wise to include your Refund Policy within your Terms and Conditionsand also post it separately so that folks can find it easily.
Why your site needs one
Refunds are typically just a part of digital commerce life. So, it’s good to have a crystal clear policy that is conspicuous to your visitors.
Don’t want to offer refunds? That’s totally fine, unless you live in a place where it is, in many cases, mandatory (we’re looking at you, Mother Europe).
The important part is that you are clear about your Refund Policy. It will help protect you from headaches and potential legal issues.
What it should contain
The most important thing is to make your policy as clear and detailed as possible.
If you don’t accept refunds at all, again, make it super clear.
If you do accept them, you’ll want to include at least these details in your policy:
  • Are there time limitations on returns?
  • What condition does the product need to be in for a return to be accepted?
  • Who pays for the return shipping (if applicable)?
  • What if items are damaged or arrive not as expected?
  • How long does it take you to process a return?
  • If a return is accepted, when can the customer expect to get his or her money back?

4. Comment Policy

What it is
Your Comment Policy is also likely a part of your Terms and Conditions, but it might be important enough to list separately on your site as well.
This policy informs all of your visitors about how you deal with comments. Plain and simple.
Why your site needs one
You can regulate your comments, so long as you do it consistently and without violating anti-discrimination laws.
Yup, as a business owner, you are capable of discrimination. If you don’t have a clear, uniformly applied Comment Policy that describes when, why, and how you delete comments, etc., you can be sued for it.
For the most part, you can decide what types of comments you will allow and what you will delete.
The major exception is that you cannot discriminate based on certain protected bases like race, religion, gender, etc.
There are more categories, and the lines between them can get blurry, but that’s a discussion for another time (over a glass of scotch, while wearing bow ties).
When in doubt, consult a lawyer.
What it should contain
Your Comment Policy should answer questions like:
  • What type of comments will you delete?
  • Whose judgment governs whether they will be deleted? (Likely yours.)
  • Is there an appeal policy for deleted comments?

5. Copyright Notice

What it is
Your Copyright Notice makes your visitors aware that your content is legally yours and they do not have the right to use it without your permission.
Why your site needs one
A Copyright Notice, though not required, is a good way to deter visitors from “borrowing” your material.
In fact, having a Copyright Notice and a general “Here’s how you may or may not use my material” policy conspicuously posted on your site will save you a lot of time, money, and heartache in the long run.
What it should contain
The Copyright Notice itself should contain the:
  • Copyright symbol ( © )
  • Year you created your website
  • Name of the copyright holder — likely, you or your business
In addition to this, if you want to grant permission for people to use certain aspects of your material, you should state that very clearly.
Just remember, it’s important to be equally as clear about what’s allowed as what’snot allowed.
Also, if you want to let people use certain parts of your material, make it clear that you still maintain ownership over it at all times.

Protect yourself and your profits

So there you have it, the five major components to help your website visitors feel safe and build trust.
Having the right legal language posted will also protect you and your profits as you build relationships with your website visitors.
Are there other steps you take to protect yourself and your creations?
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