The fine print - making sure your website is legally compliant

Do you run a business online, or are you thinking about starting one? It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the legal aspects of running a website, but it’s important to get the fine print right.

Not only will this help you to demonstrate your compliance with important privacy and consumer laws, but it will also help to protect your site from misuse.

To help you set up (or improve) your website, we’ve explained the key legal requirements for websites below. You can also use this free checklist to make sure you’ve covered everything.

Privacy and cookie policies

If you process any personal data on your website (eg email or IP addresses), then you must provide your users with certain privacy information, including details about what data you collect and how you use it. It’s common to do this by making a privacy policy available on your website, and drawing your users’ attention to relevant parts of it at the time they provide you with their personal data.

Equally, if you’re using cookies or similar technologies on your website then, for most types of cookie, you must request the consent of your users and provide them with clear information about how you use them. It’s common practice to request consent through a banner or pop-up window on your site, providing a link to your cookie policy where more detailed information can be found.

Contact details for your business

You must always include certain business details on your website regardless of whether you’re using it for ecommerce or not. For example, you need to include:

  1. the name, address, VAT and registration details of your business;

  2. your contact details including an email address; and

  3. details any schemes or professions your business is part of.

If you’re using your site to make sales online, you must also include certain ecommerce details such as:

  1. whether your business is a limited company, sole trader or partnership;

  2. any other trader you’re acting on behalf of;

  3. professional liability insurance or guarantees you are required to hold; and

  4. certain terms and conditions of sale (see below).

Terms and conditions of sale

Your terms and conditions of sale set out details of what you’re selling, how much it costs, how customers can pay, your customer service policies around delivery, refunds and cancellation, details of any after-sale services you provide and more.

You’re not legally required to provide terms and conditions of sale on your website, but they can help you to comply with your legal obligations when you’re selling online. For example, you’re required by law to provide certain information to customers on your website, including details about their right to cancel and/or to returns or refunds. Providing this information in your terms and conditions of sale is a good way to ensure you comply with your legal obligations.

Sparqa Legal has template terms and conditions of sale which set out all legally required information, whether you’re selling goods, services, or a mix of both.

If you choose to provide a set of standard terms and conditions on your website, you should provide a clear link to them (eg in the footer of every page of your site) and ensure that they’re in a format that can be downloaded and printed off by the customer.

It’s good practice to include a link and a tick-box near the end of your online sales process to make customers acknowledge that they’ve seen your T&Cs before they can actually make a purchase. Once your customer has placed their order, you must send a confirmation in writing or via an email.

Terms of Use

Website terms of use are the terms and conditions that govern the way all visitors to your website or app actually use it. They’re different to your terms and conditions of sale.

Whilst there is no legal requirement for you to put in place website terms of use, they are recommended to help to protect your business from users copying your content or using the website in an undesirable way. For example, terms of use contain:

  • a copyright notice to protect the contents of your website;

  • a general disclaimer to help protect you from liability (eg in the event that someone using your site gets a virus); and

  • clauses to protect you from users that submit content to your website in an undesirable way (eg if they submit material that breaches another person's intellectual property or should have been kept confidential, perhaps on a comments section or forum part of your site).

Although not legally required as part of the fine print on your website, it’s important to also consider how you will protect your intellectual property (eg branding and logos on your website). You can find guidance on protecting trade marks, designs, patents and copyright on Sparqa Legal’s website.

The content in this article is up-to-date at the date of publishing. The information provided is for information purposes only, and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice. ©Sparqa Limited 2021. All rights reserved.

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