Launching an online blog or web business is overwhelming. As a result, many entrepreneurs and bloggers often forget to invest in the legal side of things.
And many times, that leads to long, expensive legal battles that could have easily been avoided in the first place.
If you think I am exaggerating, I wish that was true.
Without proper compliance with the legalities of running a website, blog or other online business, you’re a massive risk. You’re making yourself vulnerable to lawsuits, fines, or in the worst case, a complete shutdown.
Full disclosure: I am not a professional lawyer. But here’s what I have learned over the years of working on my content agency, blogs and client websites.
You should have the content for these pages ready even before you launch your blog or website. Let’s take a look at these pages in more detail and what they are so important.
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Here’s an example from Playstation:
The point is that if you’re gathering any kind of information which is unique to each visitor or can act as an identifier, it’s their right to know, choose whether they want to provide it or not, and if they want, to remove that information.
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)
GDPR is among the most recent and strictest privacy laws in the world. Although it’s a law passed in Europe, it still applies to you regardless of the place of your residence.
This is because your website will get at least a few visitors from European Union in any case, even if you are not specifically targeting them.
If your website does not comply with GDPR, you can incur some serious fines which can go up to $20 million, or 4% of your annual revenue from last year, whichever is greater.
CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act)
This law was provisioned to give special rights to residents of California. As per the law, they have the right to request what information a website or business has about them, and then do get it deleted.
The law is enforced by the California Attorney General, and any violations can make you prone to civil penalties of $2,500 per violation. In fact, this amount can go up to $7,500 for an intentional violation.
- Being compliant with GDPR, CAN-SPAM Act, CCPA, and other laws.
- Your compliance with children’s privacy law which ensures that you are not collecting information from children under the age of 13.
- Inform visitors from the European Union about the personal data your website collects from/about them.
- Being transparent about how you collect email addresses, phone numbers, names or other personal information using CRM or email automation tools.
- The 3rd parties that may be collecting information through your website, like advertisers, plugins, companies you are affiliated with etc.
- Free templates lack the key legal provisions required to protect you from lawsuits
- Free generators are too broad to be able to meet all your business needs.
- Many are outdated, which means they are missing the more recent GDPR and CCPA provisions.
- They are usually not written or verified by a law professional.
Website Disclaimer Content
You must have already seen many disclaimers around the web, especially on medical or law-related websites. They typically go like this:
This information is for educational purposes only, and is not meant to replace consulting a professional doctor or lawyer. We’ll not be responsible for any consequences resulting from the application of this information.
The disclaimer is a way to legally protect you with regard to the content published in your website or other materials. It ensures that you aren’t legally held responsible for things you say or write to your audience.
A proper disclaimer policy content is tailored to your business model and niche. For instance, if you write content about personal finance, you’d want to disclaim liability for any money-related recommendations you provide, in order to prevent any of the readers from being able to sue you.
As you can see, a disclaimer limits your legal liability and provides protection from lawsuits.
And not just that, it protects you from other accounts like gaps in accuracy or completeness of your content. You cannot always ensure that all your content is 100% accurate all of the time.
What you wrote today may not be valid a few months from now, and you or someone in your team may forget to update it. You wouldn’t want to be held legally accountable for such mishaps.
A good disclaimer policy consists of all sorts of legal liability language which protects you from any issues that may arise. This also includes the disclosure.
Many people use the words “disclosure” and “disclaimer” interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. But this is not the case. A disclosure is an essential part of disclaimer, but it’s not the entire disclaimer.
A disclosure is used to inform your audience that you have some kind of monetary benefit from the products and/or services you mention in your content.
This could be in the form of paid sponsorships or affiliate commissions. Here’s an example from Stuff Parents Need.
In other words, you are required to have a disclosure of your affiliate partnerships or paid sponsorships within the disclaimer.
The disclosures are regulated by the FTC, and there can be serious penalties for non-compliance, which can go up to $11000.
Writing A Disclaimer
Acknowledge Professional Help: Make it clear that your advice is based on personal experience or research and not to be considered the same as seeking professional counsel. Encourage your audience to seek advice from a professional for their specific situation.
Limitation of Liability: Put adequate provisions in place to ensure protection from all sorts of legal liabilities which may arise from your content and 3rd party links or promotions.
Additional Disclaimers: These could be product review disclaimers, income disclaimers, and sponsored posts disclaimers, based on the type of content you develop.
Affiliate Disclosures: As already mentioned, a disclaimer will also include the necessary disclosures to be compliant with FTC regulations.
The FTC is known to take consumer rights very seriously. There are many cases of conducting investigations and bringing lawsuits against brands which don’t follow the rules.
Again, you have the option to copy and paste from a free template, but a proper disclaimer written by a lawyer is going to be a lot more accurate, comprehensive and effective in preventing violations.
Terms & Conditions
Without terms and conditions in place, the risk of getting your content stolen or running into legal issues over your product or service is considerably greater.
Terms and conditions don’t just protect you from lawsuits, but also help resolve disputes between you and your customers.
For example, let’s say a customer asks you for a refund because he expected that as a possibility in the event that he wasn’t satisfied. But it’s not possible for you to release a full refund.
If you didn’t have any terms and conditions on this matter, you’ll cause mismatch of expectations, resulting in disputes.
Writing Terms & Conditions
Based on your business model and how you deliver your product or service to customers, your terms and conditions could entail the following:
- Your intellectual property rights to ensure protection from copyright infringement and other issues
- Your right to forbid anyone from using your website at your judgement
- Your refund/exchange policies on the products you sell
- Where and how will disputes be resolved
Terms and Conditions are essential to limit the risks associated with dealing with customers with regard to your products and services.
So now you know the necessary documents required to launch a legally compliant blog or website. As I mentioned, the sooner you can prepare these documents properly by consulting an actual lawyer, the better for your brand.
The last thing I’d leave you with is that no matter how you prepare these documents, be sure to understand what they say and how they impact your business.
Don’t assume that just because you are using a premium policy generator or hiring a professional lawyer, then you don’t need to get involved.
If something goes wrong in the future, you can’t plead ignorance by saying that you didn’t know what your policies were saying and you just took whatever the lawyer provided on blind faith. So start taking responsibility from the beginning.
Did I miss anything? How do you prepare legal documents? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.