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  • Erin Holliday

Untangling the Web: Considerations for Building your Business Website

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Whether it’s to tell your story, to create a way for customers to submit orders, to build a place to connect, or all of the above, having a website for your small business can build credibility, showcase your brand, and broaden your reach.

Your business is unique and it’s a reflection of you. By putting your products, ideas, and, in many cases, yourself out there, you want to make sure you protect all of those things, and that you’re keeping everything legit from a legal perspective.

The Big Picture

The first step to getting started with your website is to simply take a step back and develop some basic goals for your business and its online presence. It’s important to ask yourself a few questions, like:

  • How much do you want to put out there?

  • What is the purpose of your website?

  • How much time do you want to spend curating content or moderating responses?

  • Do you want to sell your product or service straight from the site or just provide contact information for offline connection?

  • What kind of data input fields (i.e., contact forms) are you going to have on your website and how will you protect the information that users put into those fields?

  • What level of protection do you want to set in place for the creativity you put out there?

No surprise, there are many legal considerations when it comes to building your website (and your social media) and answering these questions. Here are a few:

Intellectual Property

Whether you’re advertising specific services or selling goods, chances are your website will have some sort of intellectual property. Intellectual property deals with the property rights resulting from the physical expression or manifestation of original thought (read our blog post on IP for more information on the specifics). This can be anything from the design of the actual products you sell, to an explanation of your process, from your logo to the expression (videos, content, etc.) of your unique services.

Putting your business on the internet will inevitably open it up to a few more eyeballs who might try to run away with the IP you’ve worked hard to develop. They can all be protected at different levels and in different forms depending on the type of content. Copyrights apply to creative works, such as literature, content on your website, photographs, music (in written *and* recorded form -- two different kinds of copyright!), and videos.

To start, make sure you put a copyright symbol, the year, and your business name in the footer of your website (©2022 YOUR BUSINESS NAME). If you are providing a download or video content, make sure to include the copyright symbol on those as well as any specific limitations on those products.

You may also want to continue trademarks for your logo and business name, especially if you are going to be selling across state lines.

From there, depending on the specific property and the level of protection you want, it is probably worth spending the money on a lawyer to help guide you through your specific needs. The Trellis Template Library™ also has some basic language options to protect intellectual property.

Web Sales + Terms and Conditions

If you’ll be selling products online or having people sign up for services or events, you’ll want to make sure that your sales are protected in a few ways. You will want to make sure you have terms of use that include: what services or products you’re offering; any limitations on what you’re offering; waivers of liability, disclaimers, cancellation terms (what happens if you’re offering a monthly service and someone wants to cancel mid-month?); return policies; and more. Even if you use a third-party website or vendor to deliver your electronic services and they have terms, those vendor terms likely still put the liability on your business for your services and customer interactions, so specifying your own terms is key.

Learn more about web sales in our What’s up with Web Sales free resource. Or, Trellis offers customizable templates for online services, products, and both in our Template Library: Basic Online Purchase Terms (online services); Basic Online Purchase Terms (products); Basic Online Purchase Terms (products and online services). We also provide Community Supported Agriculture terms and basic activity waivers if people are signing up for events, workshops, exercise classes, and more.

Privacy Policies

Privacy policies tell customers what information you’re collecting, whether you’re using a third-party service (such as Stripe, Paypal, etc.), which services you use, and what information you see.

We’ve all consented to the collection of cookies from websites, and some sites are really good at explaining exactly what data they collect – or don’t collect – from you. That’s because laws like the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act require companies that do business in California or Europe – and more and more additional states are passing their own versions – to follow the specific guidelines surrounding data gathering, disclosure, and consent. If you offer shipping or services to Europe or California, or other states with specific laws regarding privacy, there is very specific information you may need to include in your privacy policy.

Additionally, you must have a privacy policy if you target your site to, or collect information from, children 13 or under. This is due to a special law called the Child Online Privacy Protection Rule. It is highly recommended you speak with a lawyer if you have a website targeted to children or that collects information from children.

Having a privacy policy doesn’t only help you with legal protection, it also establishes a transparent relationship with your users to make them feel informed about what you do with their data. Learn more from our free general “What’s the Deal with Privacy Policies?” resource available for download.

Check if there are Any Other Specific Rules You are Required to Follow

Check your specific industry and location you’re doing business with your specific goals for your website because there might be other specific laws unique to what you do, sell, or services you provide.

There may be laws surrounding your specific industry’s advertising or commercial speech. For example, Pennsylvania law requires home improvement contractors to include their Pennsylvania registration credentials on all advertisements, and this includes websites.

It is also important to make sure that your website is accessible to people with disabilities. Depending on the business, you might be required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to do so. One example of an accommodation could be to display a link to an accessibility statement at the top of your homepage to ensure blind consumers receive notice of the accessibility statement and the contact information in it. This ensures the blind consumer can engage in some self-help when they inevitably run into inaccessible content. Another example might be making sure your website accommodates reader devices, for example, if you have a picture on the page, you’ll want to have a description in that picture’s data that describes what the image is. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) provides web accessibility guidelines and great resources for ensuring your website provides usability for people with disabilities.

There are many great reasons to put your business on the internet. It’s important to make sure all that you’ve worked so hard for is protected, and that you’re following the specific laws and regulations so you can keep doing what you do best.

DISCLAIMER: This blog is meant for informational purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should discuss their specific situation with an attorney.

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