Protecting your Website from Unintended Liability

Written by Elizabeth Layeni

May 8, 2021

image source: unsplash.com

Websites, among other reasons are created to inform new and existing clients about the products and services that a company offers as well as create an online presence for a company or organisation. Just like startups, websites are also subject to country-specific laws & regulations. Not adhering to these stipulations could result in legal battles and liabilities. 

Protecting a website from liability could happen pre-launch and post-launch of the website. On the pre-launch, it is imperative that you put certain measures in place such as confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements to protect any idea or business secrets that you may have. 

Typically, websites should have privacy policies detailing how users’ data is going to be collected and processed, as well as the security and/or data protection measures applied by the owner of the website. There should be a conspicuous and intelligible privacy notice on a website in compliance with the provisions of the data protection laws of a country (in Nigeria, it will be the NDPR). The privacy policy should be distinct from a cookies policy, non-contractual in nature, and easy to access and locate.

To protect your website from liability, there should be a disclaimer on the website; as where a person reasonably takes action(s) based on the information provided on a website, the website owner could be held liable. Disclaimers typically relates to refusal to accept responsibility and limit the legal liability of an individual, company or organisation. Disclaimers should be drafted properly to avoid an overkill that would end up destroying the legal liability they were designed to prevent.

The contents on a website are considered to be the intellectual property of the website owner. It is usual that a site owner would put up content on a website, and liability could arise where users of the site infringe on the rights of the owners by copying or distributing the copyrighted work. Users do not have the license to use copyrighted work for their own purposes unless they have the consent of the copyright owner or pay royalties. The owner of the site could also use a software that stops visitors to the page from copying and distributing copyrighted work. Where you purchase an already-established website, you should get an IP assignment agreement with the transfer of ownership of the website. In addition to having a privacy policy on your website, an intellectual property notice should suffice as well.

Another way to protect one’s website from liability is by having a terms of service. A terms of service should be an essential part of a website as it spells out what users must do and not do while using the website. After determining the scope of business for the site, a term of service serves as a form of contract between the owner of the site and the users of the site. Where users defy the terms for use of the website, there should be penalties/remedies reserved for such violations, including and leading to the loss of such user’s account. To have users accept these conditions, a clickwrap should be inserted into the design of the website. This allows the site owner to obtain undoubted acceptance from users when they actively click on something that signifies their acceptance.  

On the post-launch of the website, you should ensure that the privacy policies, cookies policy and terms of use are regularly updated in compliance with the data protection laws regulating the country that you offer your products and services.

Having a website is a great way to reach a large amount of users, and to avoid liability or legal battles, site owners should ensure that they take the aforementioned protections into consideration.

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