E-commerce and the law!

E-commerce and the Law: legal issues in running your website

(Courtesy of Kaltons, the property and internet lawyers: www.kaltons.co.uk - their site contains much more free information)

Domain names

  • Check out the name to make sure that it does not conflict with someone else’s business – for about £40 a year, BNR will check the name for you in the UK and then insure you against legal costs you incur in defending your name: www.bnr.plc.uk
  • Also check that the main part of the name (the name without the “.com” or “.co.uk”) is not a registered trade mark (for free UK trademark searches, look at www.patent.gov.uk)
  • Make sure that you register all the “suffixes” (e.g. .com, .net, .co.uk, .biz, etc.) that are relevant to you and also register multiple words with and without hyphens and any common misspellings.
  • If your domain name is sufficiently distinctive, consider registering it as a trademark if you can (at least in the UK and in any other country that may be important to you


 Using Designers

  • Make sure you agree in writing exactly what is expected of the web designer and of you.
  • Consider what are “extras” and how you will be charged for them.
  • Insist on acquiring copyright in the site but expect not to get it until you have paid the designer in full. Get a warranty about copyright ownership and make sure the designer fully indemnifies you against all “costs, claims and liabilities” arising from breach of the warranty.
  • Ensure you are free to use anything you supply to a designer - if any content was prepared by a third party other than an employee, you normally don’t own the rights to it.

Basic content for your site

  • Put your contact information in a prominent position, and include details of your business name, the name of the owner(s) of the business, your normal address and (for companies) any separate “registered office” (or otherwise state it is the same as the trading address), where the company is registered (e.g. England) and the company number.
  • Partnerships must state all the partners’ names.


Constructing your web site

  • Get consent before linking into other web sites – usually people will be delighted to allow you to do so, but sometimes they may not and may be able to sue you for doing so.
  • You will need terms of business if you are doing business on the internet and may want them on there anyway. Don’t just copy other people’s terms - they may be out of date, and internet dealings also raise special issues.
  • Your terms should be in plain English – in some cases the law requires it anyway.
  • If you sell goods, your terms must allow you to reject an order so that errors can be avoided and the contract avoided if you have run out of stock.
  • There are strict laws about giving basic information and cooling-off periods if you sell via your web site or by telephone without meeting the client/customer.
  • Make sure your client/customer has to click into your site terms and accept them before proceeding.
  • Any site “disclaimers” (notices reducing your liability) must be prominent or else they will be ineffective.
  • Other people’s postings on your website (e.g. adverts, directory listings, forums, chat rooms, reviews
  • If you allow other people to put anything on your site, whether directly or after being monitored, you need to (a) have a prominent complaints policy so that offending material will be removed fast, (b) have site use terms accepted by the user before they can use the site and (c) insure against liability (e.g. defamation or breach of copyright)
  • Wherever possible, monitor content before it can be seen on the site - disclaimers will not protect you.
  • Make sure that users agree to indemnify you fully against any liability.


Collecting and using personal data

  • Most people want to be able to collect and use details of site users – either to process and order or to market to them in future or even to sell the list to third parties. The Data Protection Act is complex and severely restricts what you can do with that information.
  • You have to comply with the Act even if you are not required to “notify” the Information Commissioner’s office about your use of data – see www.dataprotection.gov.uk for more information.
  • You will normally need a privacy policy stating exactly what you may do with data and often you need site users to accept its terms before they register.
  • It is usually better to have an “opt-in” policy for data collection (i.e. they are not included unless they click the relevant box).
  • Don’t allow other people access to or use of the data you collect unless you have the person’s consent to doing so.
  • Notification only costs £35 a year.


Employee use of e-mail and the internet

  • Have an effective e-mail and internet use policy so you reduce the risk of being held responsible for an employee’s actions in email or on the internet – this is one of the main new risk areas for businesses using the internet.
  • You must regularly and consistently enforce your email and internet policy, or else it will be of no help.
  • Don’t monitor staff e-mail and internet use without getting advice on what you can and cannot do.



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