UncategorizedWebsite Legal Check List

July 22, 2015

A company’s website is a valuable asset. For Internet based companies, it is often the company’s most valuable asset. However, business owners often are plagued by problems resulting from their websites. These problems often result from overlooking some basic things.

Be sure to follow these guidelines and ask yourself if you now have all the information you need to effectively move, change, or manage your own website.

  1. Own your own domain. It may seem obvious but the business needs to control the domain name. Too often, a partner or third party will obtain the domain and secure it in his or her name. That person then has the power to shut down the business website and its email. Avoid future problems and make sure your business owns the domain name.
  2. Possess all access information for your domain. You, personally, should have the username and password for the account that manages your domain – e.g. the GoDaddy account with which you bought your domain. Provide access to this information strictly on a need to know basis and maintain knowledge of the login at all times. Otherwise, your website and email could disappear in an instant.
  3. Purchase all related domain names. If you don’t, your competitors may purchase them and use those domain names to intercept traffic from your customer’s searching for your website. Internet marketing consultants strongly recommend buying every variation for your primary domain. So, if your primary domain is xyzwidget.com, then buy xyzwidget.biz, xyzwidget.net, xyzwidget.org, xyzwidget.xxx, xyz-widget.com, xyz-widget.net, xyz-widget.org, etc. Spend some money and buy them all up.
  4. Use a reputable website designer. Don’t use someone who is doing you a favor or your nephew or your girlfriend’s cousin. People who dabble in website design and development may make costly mistakes for which you will be held liable. Enter into a contract with a professional website designer and require that they provide you with details on where your site is hosted and how to make changes. Furthermore, the website designer should warrant that no images or other materials infringe on copyrights of third parties, and that you own all the rights to the content developed for your site (see below).
  5. Have a contract with the designer. You must have a written contract with your web designer. The contract should spell out the services and the price and contain two terms:
    1. The designer’s work is “work for hire”. What this means is that any work done by the designer of your site will belong to you and not the designer. This is important because otherwise your designer will own the copyrights to the content of your site. You want to own it.
    2. All stock art, photos, content will be licensed. There should be a line item in the contract for the cost of getting licenses for stock photos. Do not allow your designer to put someone else’s pictures, art or photos on your website without a license or permission. Some website designers still search the web and download photos or artwork that they like from other person’s websites. The designer then puts them on their clients’ websites. This is copyright infringement and you are liable for it. Even if the art or photo does not have a copyright notice, you don’t have a right to use it. Stock photo companies are very aggressive in finding their stock photos in use on websites. If a company using the photo on its website doesn’t have a license to use it, then the stock photo company will demand large sums of money and possibly sue for copyright infringement. Ask your website designer: “Do you understand copyright law?” If the designer does not, find one who does.

  6. Protect your trademarks. Before going live with your website, file an application for your trademarks/tradenames. You should protect your rights to the trademarks that you do business under. Once you go live with your website, the whole world will know of your trademark. If you do not register your trademarks, unscrupulous persons might try to take them away from you.
  7. Post terms and conditions of use and a privacy policy on your website. If you will be doing business on the website, you must have terms and conditions of use. You need to state the terms of use for your site and for the purchase of goods or services. These terms can set the governing law and venue for any disputes and can limit the rights of consumers to sue you. If you will be interacting, in any way, with customers through the website, you must have a privacy policy. You must state how you will use any information that the customer/client gives to you. Privacy laws are changing frequently so be sure to address this. Contact our office for more details as we are helping many clients review or draft appropriate privacy policies that are up-to-date.
  8. Know your host. Websites reside on servers owned by a hosting company who collects recurring fees. Be sure that you are in direct contact with the company hosting your website (who is probably providing your email service as well). You should be in direct contract with the hosting company so that if the designer goes out of business, your website doesn’t disappear. You also need to be able to handle problems with the site directly without going through your designer. Even if you let the designer handle such problems, you need to know who to contact if you have a hosting or email problem.
    1. Have your FTP information. You must also have the FTP (File Transfer Protocol) login (user name and password) and any other information that will allow you full access to the site and enable you to transfer the site to another server. Designers like to hold onto such information for job security but you are entitled to it. Without such information, you can’t move your site or make important changes.

  9. File your copyrights. Once your site is complete, file a copyright registration for its content. Stealing content from websites is common place. With a copyright registration, you can force content thieves to remove stolen content or sue them. Copyright registrations make it worthwhile to sue for infringement. Without a registration, you can’t do much about an infringer.

Use this checklist when you start (or replace) your company’s website. If you need any help with any of the above items, please contact me. We have extensive experience developing the contracts, policies, trademark registrations, copyright registrations, and other protections that will enable you to have a vibrant and successful online presence.

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