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Keeping Up With Website Legal Requirements: Best Practices To Protect Your Small Business

Small businesses need an active, legally-compliant, and up-to-date website to drive new business. E commerce has increased through every industry, and you need a web presence to keep up. Whether or not you sell your products or services online, potential clients and customers will look to your website to determine if you are a legitimate operator before giving you their business. A well-maintained website can offer reassurance that you are the real deal, and earn trust that leads to profits.

With that in mind, there are best practices to employ when creating or updating your business website. If you are starting from scratch, read on so I can help you avoid some common pitfalls. If your website is already up-and-running, it never hurts to review your web presence and make sure all your legal ducks are in a row. Following best practices for website maintenance can protect your small business from some significant legal issues down the road and ensure that you’re complying with website legal requirements. 

Your Domain Is Vital

A domain name is the website URL used to access your company’s page. It is crucial to have the right domain so that potential customers land on your website and not your competitor’s. A domain name is unique. Once it is registered with a host, such as Google or Go Daddy, no one else can use that domain for as long as it is properly maintained (and paid for). Generally, if your company’s name is available as a domain, register it immediately. It may also be good practice to register similar domains and have them redirect to your main page. 

For example, imagine your company is named Widgets, Inc. You will likely want to register widgets.com, widgetsinc.com, and wigets.com. Common misspellings, such as in the last example, can protect your company from cybersquatters.

Consider other ways people may be seeking your services, and register some of those possible domains. If you are Widgets, Inc., you probably want customers searching for gears to find your website. Therefore, registering gears.com may be advisable. However, squatting on a domain in bad faith is illegal. Ensure you have a plan to properly use any domains you register.

Once you have acquired the proper domains, protect them through regular site maintenance. They are yours so long as you pay your host for the domain.

Develop Your Website

If you have ever searched for a product or company and ended up on a page that looks like 1999, you understand the need for proper site development. Potential clients may think less of your business if your web presence is dated. 

Even if you have an established website, explore whether professional assistance could benefit your online business. When seeking professional web developers, make sure they agree to a contract that protects your company and its clients. The developer likely needs access to sensitive information when crafting your page, so including a non-disclosure agreement as part of their services contract is always a smart idea.

Include a Well-Crafted Privacy Policy and Terms

A well-run website will not only help funnel potential customers to your company but can also provide valuable insights into your client base. If you plan to collect any personal data or contact information such as names, email addresses, phone numbers, social security numbers, and IP addresses from your page’s users, you are legally required to have a privacy policy. 

An appropriate privacy policy informs website visitors what data you will collect and store, for what reasons, and for how long. It should also detail the data protection efforts in place to keep your website visitors’ personal information safe and avoid serious data breaches, as well as your cookie policy. A clear and comprehensive privacy policy helps build trust with users and shows that you are operating legally and complying with the relevant privacy laws.

Similar to a privacy policy, your website’s terms and conditions (or terms of service) explain to users the rules governing your page. Terms and conditions are especially vital for e commerce website owners or site owners that allow users to post their own content. Legal disclaimers that limit your business’ liability for content generated by third-parties are essential.

For both privacy policies and terms and conditions, you should have an experienced attorney assist your company. As a lawyer who has devoted her career to helping small businesses, I have seen the fallout from poor drafting firsthand. Expensive lawsuits, time-consuming customer complaints, and temporary page shutdowns can occur. I strongly recommend that you defend yourself by retaining counsel to create appropriate privacy policies and terms and conditions.

Understand the CAN-SPAM Act

Any company that emails clients, potential customers, or users needs to be aware of the federal CAN-SPAM Act. Bulk or blast emails are not the only types covered by this regulation. Instead, the CAN-SPAM Act governs all commercial emails or messages.

There are broad requirements of the law, including:

  • Regulating false header information.
  • Preventing deceptive subject lines.
  • Labeling content as an advertisement.
  • Identifying your company’s location.
  • Providing a way for recipients to opt-out of your emails.
  • Monitoring third-party agents.

The specific rules and requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act are complicated. One general takeaway is that if you use email lists, you need to offer users a way to stop receiving your messages. Retaining an attorney to provide legal advice for avoiding any CAN-SPAM violations is always a smart move.

Avoid Marketing To Children

The United States government implemented the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to protect minors under 13. Anyone who operates a commercial website must comply with the provisions of COPPA. Every company should update its privacy policy to comply with COPPA’s rules for collecting certain information from minors. If you intend to have children under 13 use your website, you will also need to add a parental consent mechanism. Even if you do not plan to have minors using your website, you should consult your attorney to maintain COPPA compliance.

Intellectual Property Issues

Website owners often run into trouble when using or hosting information that is not their intellectual property. Images, logos, slogans, videos, and songs are typically owned by their creators or subsequent licensees. If you put any of this intellectual property on your website without proper licensing, you could find yourself in hot water for trademark or copyright infringement.

Websites that allow users to post their own content are likely to have copyright disputes. To avoid hassles, you may want to appoint a designated agent with the federal Copyright Office. Because the volume of complaints can quickly become overwhelming if you have an active user base, your registered copyright agent can handle all incoming disputes.

Make sure to indicate in your terms and agreements that you have a designated copyright agent. This will notify owners of intellectual property who to contact if they have any issues regarding your site’s use of their work. It’s also wise to include a copyright notice to protect your own IP.

Get Professional Assistance

It is a best practice to periodically review your web presence. As part of our mission to support small businesses, Mod Law Firm provides comprehensive advice to business owners to prevent legal issues in the future. Whether you are building a new presence on the internet or ready to upgrade your offerings, sign up for an initial chat with a Mod Law attorney today!

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