Posted by on Jun 7, 2013 in Getting Started, Managing Your Website

Is your website breaking the law? Or more specifically are YOU breaking the law by ignoring some basic website legal requirements? Most people and websites are….

The majority of my clients don’t even consider their website’s legal requirements until I mention it to them. Fortunately for you, the basic requirements are easy to fulfil and shouldn’t really cost you much money either. These suggestions will apply to anyone responsible for a website, regardless of whether it’s a simple blog site or a multinational online store.

Keeping data safe

“The ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office) is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals”

To put it simply the ICO is there to protect the rights of your personal data wherever it’s used or held online. If you capture any data from your website visitor, whether that is a ‘cookie’ or basic contact information you capture on your contact form then you are legally obliged to notify the ICO that you are a ‘data controller’, they will also charge you £35 a year for the pleasure! Although, if you have a turnover of £25.9M and have 250 or more members of staff then your fee will be £500.

To register (or ‘Notify’ as they call it) you need to visit the ICO website to complete an online form which you have to print out and post to them along with your cheque for £35. This is an annual fee and process so please remember to renew each year.

Legal documents

The documents required by your website will be defined by the purpose and function of your website. If you have a basic blog then a ‘Disclaimer’ and ‘Privacy policy’ would probably suffice. If you have a more interactive website such as a shopping cart or you provide some form of service on the website then you will need to display your ‘Terms and conditions’ as well.

What is a Disclaimer?

A website disclaimer should detail the limitations of your liability for the use of your website and the information or services it provides. There are lots of free templates available on the web, if you want to repurpose one of these, for those of you in the UK, you can use Business Link for a sample Disclaimer.

What is a Privacy Policy?

A Privacy Policy should tell the visitor how you collect, store and manage the information collected about them. This information could be; name, address, telephone, email address, gender, financial data, occupation status etc. Take a look at the Privacy policy for this site to see an example or you can copy and reword the sample Privacy Policy from Business Link.

What should be in my Terms and Conditions?

Your website’s Terms and Conditions should give information about the website content and how visitors are and are not permitted to use it. Basically sayiny “‘this is what we provide and this is how we do it, if you don’t agree with any of this then please don’t use this website”. Take a look the Terms and Conditions of this website for an example.

Do I need a copyright notice?

Most people aren’t aware of this, but unlike the documents above this is not a legal requirement for the simple reason that copyright is automatically applied from the moment the works are created. You don’t need a licence or document to uphold your rights for this piece of work.

If you write an article, paint a picture or take a photograph, copyright law dictates that nobody is allowed to use that work without your express permission. Every time you have downloaded an image from the web without permission from the creator, you have broken copyright law! The same law obviously applies to your website, nobody is allowed to copy any of your content without your permission, regardless of whether you have a Copyright notice on your site or not.

You don’t need a notice in your window saying ‘You are not allowed to break in to this house and steal my TV’ for a break-in to be considered illegal!

Is your website accessible to everybody?

If somebody with impaired vision, can’t access the information on your website then it could be seen as discrimination.

The Equality Act came into force in October 2010, replacing the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in England, Scotland and Wales. This area shouldn’t be addressed purely for you to comply with the law, you should always be considering your customer, that includes those with visual impairments or other disabilities.

A few pointers to ensure you are compliant:

  • You should have ‘alt’ tags on all your images, these tags will tell screen readers what the image is about
  • Make sure all essential pages or services are accessible by a screen reader
  • All text should be contrasting enough from the background colour so those with partial sight loss can still see it

At the date of wirting this article no legal case has been filed against a website or business for the above mentioned issues but as I said before its not just about complying with the law, its also about ensuring you don’t neglect any potential customers or visitors.

Some of the above will apply and some may not, but please do take a moment of your time to consider which legal requirements apply to you and your website. It won’t take you long or cost you much, if anything, to comply with these laws but may save you LOTS of money on legal fees later down the line.