Your website is finally live. People can read your blog. They can access your freebie vault. They can peruse your online shop. They can ponder your copy while deciding if they want to hire your services.
Whether you’re an online coach, blogger, affiliate marketer, social media manager, virtual assistant, copywriter, or some other niche in the online space, building a business is an exciting adventure. And driving traffic to your website will become a huge priority.
But what happens if someone decides to print that workbook from your freebie vault and pass it around to their own clients?
Or if a website user decides to post nasty comments on your blog?
Or, gulp, someone alleges they relied on information you provided on your website to their detriment and files a claim against you?
Is your heart racing just thinking about all the crazy unknowns? I am sure you are wondering does my website needs terms and conditions?
The answer if definitely yes. However, take a deep breath and let’s chat about how your website’s Terms and Conditions can help address some of the crazy from the outset.
But first, know that everything I chat about here is intended to provide legal information and education. It is not business, financial, or legal advice, and does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m an attorney licensed in the United States, so everything will be from the perspective of United States law. You should consult with an attorney in your area who understands your particular business situation so that you can take the right steps for you and your business.
What are Terms and Conditions on a Website?
Terms and Conditions are a contract between you and your website users. They are the “rules of the road” for your website.
If you think about all of the websites you’ve visited, I’m sure you remember seeing “Terms and Conditions” at the bottom of your screen. But (more likely than not) you never took the time to actually read them. Two things about that:
First, I ALWAYS recommend reading the Terms and Conditions for any website you interact on. Not your first choice of reading, I know. Sorry, it’s the lawyer in me.
Second, Terms and Conditions are not actually legally required. But you know why you always see them? Because litigated cases have shown time and time again that they’re the first place the Court will look if a dispute arises between you and one of your website user’s.
The long and short of it? Your website needs Terms and Conditions.
(If you need an overview of the legal issues you should be considering in your online business, snag a copy of An Online Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business)
Where Do I Put Them?
So, I know you’ve seen Terms and Conditions at the bottom of websites you’ve visited. But just slapping them on your website in the footer (also known as a “browse-wrap”) doesn’t really do the trick. In order to create a legally enforceable contract with your website users, best practice is to actually require a website user to affirmatively agree to your Terms and Conditions by clicking a button or checkbox that says “I agree” or some other similar language (also known as the “click-wrap” method).
Fear not, Courts generally do not require your website user to actually read your Terms and Conditions – it’s whether your website user had notice that they existed and an opportunity to read them that matters.
It’s always best practice to use a click-wrap approach on your website.
So, What Should I Include?
Since your Terms and Conditions are the rules your website user will be required to follow, here are 7 key provisions to include to minimize the crazy we talked about earlier:
1. Intellectual Property Notice – Copyright law and trademark law each have their own requirements for enforcement, but by including an intellectual property notice in your Terms and Conditions you provide notice to your website user about what they can and cannot do with your content. And it also allows you to let your website user know that you intend to prosecute any infringement of your intellectual property rights to the fullest extent of the law.
2. User Limitations – Since you are the queen (or king) of your website domain, including a user limitations provision to outline things your website user can or cannot do (like leave vulgar or hateful comments on your blog) is a good practice.
3. Termination – A termination provision is key if your website allows user-generated content (such as comments on your blog or within a registered section of your site). It provides notice that you will terminate a website user’s access, if necessary.
4. Third-Party Links – If you’re going to include links to other websites anywhere on your own site, you want to make sure that you advise your website user that you are not endorsing those third-party sites and are not responsible for their content, availability, or accuracy. You don’t want to be responsible if one of your website users clicks a link to another website and alleges they are harmed in any way!
5. Testimonials – If you plan to include testimonials from former clients or customers on your website, you also want to be sure to include a provision that advises website users that any testimonials are examples, NOT guarantees. You don’t want a client or customer to file a claim alleging that they relied on your testimonials but didn’t achieve the same results.
6. Disclaimers – One of the most critical parts of your Terms and Conditions (and why you really do want to make sure you have your website user agree to your terms), are the provisions dealing with limitations of liability and release of claims. You do not want to expose yourself to any undue risk! These provisions are key.
7. Dispute Resolution and Jurisdiction – In the event that a website user decides to bring a claim against you, having a provision that addresses how disputes will be handled and in what jurisdiction is integral to making sure that you’re not facing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees and fines all while having to travel thousands of miles to defend yourself.
So, there you have it, Terms and Conditions: what they are, where they go, and 7 key provisions to include. While this is not an exhaustive list of provisions to include, you can see that your Terms and Conditions are a good way to get legal protections in place for your online business BEFORE any issue arises.
If you’re thinking, “well shoot…where do I even begin with drafting?!” Don’t worry, you can snag an attorney drafted template in my Legal Shop.