Today, nearly every business has a website … so it follows that building a website is one of the first steps an entrepreneur takes to build a business. But thanks to the array of technologies and resources available to build websites, entrepreneurs are creating new sites almost recklessly, without thinking through the full repercussions or risks of their choices.
Though most business owners are sharp enough to think about the legal considerations regarding the physical aspects of their business, such as land use and zoning laws, many miss the essential flip side: legal considerations you need to keep in mind for your website development.
The Modern Age of Web Development
By some accounts, we’re currently living in a “golden age” of entrepreneurship. Why? Because of the Internet.
The web enables entrepreneurs to find inspiration, perform research, and even obtain the necessary resources to build their businesses from scratch (not to mention connect with the people who can help them become a success). Some of these resources include template-based site builders, which allow almost anyone to create a website from scratch — for free — in a matter of hours.
But this instant-gratification model has prevented plucky business owners from acknowledging the serious legal considerations that should be at the forefront of their minds.
Top Legal Considerations
What are the legal considerations that all entrepreneurs should be aware of?
- What to include in a Terms of Service agreement. Depending on the nature of your website and service offerings, you may need to include a Terms of Service agreement on your website. If you do, you need to build this document carefully, because it will be legally binding for both parties. You can find a Terms of Service template online pretty easily, but you’re not going to cover all your bases with one of these mass-produced documents. Go over each line carefully, make sure you understand it, and include any additional considerations you need to add for your particular enterprise.
- What types of personal information to collect (and how). You may need to collect personal information, such as names, addresses, credit card numbers, and even Social Security numbers from potential clients. How much of this information are you going to collect? Are you going to obtain it through a third-party service, or are you going to store it? How are you going to make sure it remains secure. If you don’t think this through, you could be opening the door to some major problems down the road.
- Image and content legality. This is a consideration most amateurs neglect; just because an image is online and you can download it to your computer, that doesn’t mean you have the legal right to use it on your website, especially if your site promotes a business designed to make money. There are loads of sites that offer free images for use online, but make sure you do your research before posting. Some of the images are fair for only non-commercial websites, and most must include some kind of credit to the original producer.
- Intellectual property rights. You’ll also need to bear intellectual property rights in mind. Most creative assets, such as illustrations, brands, or anything unique that’s tied to an individual or business is considered protected under intellectual property rights, which means you don’t have the right to use it in any form. If you take “creative inspiration” from one of these sources for use on your own site, you may be in violation of these laws, and the intellectual property owner can file suit against you. Make certain all your material is either original or used with explicitly confirmed permission.
Realistically, there aren’t many right or wrong answers regarding these legal considerations; they’re just that—considerations. You need to acknowledge that they exist, and think carefully about how they should exist for your business.
For example, your particular business may not need a Terms of Service agreement at all … but it’s something you need to think about at the start. Do your research before building a site on your own, and don’t be afraid to reach out to a professional for extra assistance should you need it.