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Avoiding Legal Problems in Your Internet Business

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/23/2006 | Legal
If you own and/or operate an Internet business, you are required by law to comply with established laws, codes, and regulations. Being unaware of any of these laws is not considered a satisfactory alibi. In the eyes of the government, just because you didn't purposely break any laws doesn't mean you are innocent.

You should place links to your business and legal notices on every one of your web pages. You business notices would be comprised of your Contact Information and About Us data. You may also wish to include a link to a FAQ page and another to your Affiliate Program if you have one. Your legal notices should consist of your Copyright information, your Privacy Policy, your Terms of Service, your Disclaimer, and if applicable, an Earnings Disclaimer.

To get an idea of how to word these notices, look over the legal data on several of your competitor's websites. Do not copy any of these verbatim as this would be considered copyright infringement. You may want to purchase a software package that will generate the required notices. Also available are free online generators for some of these notices.


ABOUT US: Create a page about you and/ or your company. Include your name, the name of your company, your picture, and a short biography. If you have any partners, add the same for each of them. If appropriate, include a likeness of your company's building. This could be a drawing or a photograph.

CONTACT US: You need to include a page with your contact information. The minimum data this should have is a contact email address. If your business is physically located somewhere other than your home, include the address and your business phone number. If you work out of you home, you may not want to include your physical address or personal phone number for safety reasons.

FAQ: Include a link to a FAQ page. You may be able to lower the number of emails sent to you if you have a FAQ page readily accessible. Encourage your visitors to check your FAQs before sending you an email.

AFFILIATE: If you have an affiliate program, include a page where potential partners can get more information. Describe your program, state what an affiliate can expect in terms of support, explain your payment terms and include any other relative details. Your affiliate page should also state your Anti-Spam policy and what actions you will take if this policy is violated.


COPYRIGHT: Include your copyright information at the bottom of each page of your website. Your copyright statement should include the word Copyright as well as the copyright symbol. You should also include the clause: All Right Reserved. If you sell products or services worldwide, use the clause: All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

DISCLAIMER: A disclaimer should state the extent to which individuals may use the data on your website. It should state your lack of liability for any damages sustained by a visitor using or downloading any data on your website. Include a cautionary statement concerning potential viruses, Trojans, worms, spyware, etc. that may be present in any material downloaded from the Internet. You might also want to state that your visitor should consult an attorney, accountant and/ or a medical authority before using any information on or downloaded from your site.

EARNINGS DISCLAIMER: If you've included statements about potential earnings achievable by using the information on your website, include an earnings disclaimer. This should say something to the effect that you can't guarantee results, that the statements made were used primarily as examples, and that not everyone will get the same results. NEVER state that a person WILL make X amount of dollars in X amount of time as you may encounter legal problems if you do so.

PRIVACY POLICY: Include a privacy policy if you gather any information from your visitor even if it's only your visitor's name and email address for a newsletter subscription. This policy should spell out exactly why you are gathering certain information and how you will use that information. Always tell your visitor if the information will be shared with a third party or not.

TERMS OF SERVICE: A Terms of Service notice should advise your visitor of the terms for using your site and state who is legally allowed to use your site. You should always include an age statement. In the US, anyone under 13 years of age needs parental consent to use any website while in other countries, the minimum age is 18. If you include any adult information and/ or images be sure to state so and also state the the site is not usable by anyone under the age of 18 no matter what country they reside in.

In order to protect your business and all the effort you've put into building it, you need to be aware of the rules and regulations that control advertising. If you conduct any Internet business in the US, go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/buspubs/dotcom/index.html for FTC (Federal Trade Commission) requirements. Failure to follow these requirements may result in fines and/ or incarceration.

If you use email marketing in your Internet business, in every email you send out you must include your physical address as well as some way for your subscriber to opt out of your list. You can find links to rules and acts as well as press releases and public comments about spam at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/spam/rules.htm.

If you would like an overview of the Can-Spam Act and the requirements for commercial emailers, go to: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/spam/business.htm. You will find information and requirements concerning unsubscribe options on the same page.

To help prevent legal problems, include the required legal notices on your website, don't make any dishonest, deceitful or false statements about your product or service and follow the Can-Spam Act. While there is no guarantee that you'll never have any legal problems, incorporating these in your Internet marketing will significantly reduce your chances of ever encountering any.