How to Protect Your Website from Liability

By: Jim Dossey, MS, MBA, JD, Registered Patent Attorney

You have just launched your new website. It looks great and you are very proud of it, but you are concerned about potential liability. Here are a few steps you should take to protect yourself:

  1. Liability for Your Own Content
    1. "Terms of Use" – Every website should include a page that describes the "terms of use" for the site. "Terms of Use" describe how the content of the site can be used, provide liability disclaimers / waivers, and give notice of applicable trademarks and copyrights. A link to the "Terms of Use" should be provided on every page in the website. The "terms of use" should be tailored to the type of information the site provides and the potential risks that could arise due to improper use.
  1. Liability for User's Personal Information – If personal data is collected, the site should clearly outline its "Privacy Policy" regarding that data. By providing a "Privacy Policy" on the site, you can properly set expectations on how user information will be used.
  1. Liability for User-Generated Content (i.e. Blogs with User Comments, Online "Communities, etc.)
    1. Designated Agent - The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), signed into law in 1998, provides a "safe harbor" to protect website owners from copyright infringement liability of website contributors. Under the DMCA, a website owner can list a Designated Agent with the US Copyright Office. The original content owner can find the Designated Agent on the US Copyright Office website and give formal notice of copyright infringement. The Designated Agent is required to expeditiously remove or disable access to the infringing content. Designating an agent is very inexpensive and requires minimal effort (see https://www.copyright.gov/dmca-directory/); every website that allows users to contribute content should take this step.
    2. User Agreement – Your site should require users to acknowledge a "user agreement" if they are to provide content to your site. The user agreement should clearly and concisely list the "terms of use." Ideally, the user should be required to scroll through the terms and click on an "I agree" button to manifest their asset to the terms.
  1. General Liability
    1. Own and operate the website under a limited liability entity, such as a limited partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation. Forming an entity should be one of the first steps you take to limit your personal liability for the actions of your company.

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