Legal tips to manage your online presence - Business Works
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Legal tips to manage your online presence

Dominic Higgins, contributing writer, Contact Law The internet creates exciting opportunities for business instant access to huge numbers of potential customers and a global platform for your brand. But this means navigating a web of legal issues. Here are some tips to help you take full advantage of the online world without tangling with the law.

Creating a website

You do not have to be a technical wiz to set up a website, but it helps! If you opt to use an external consultant, bear the following in mind:

  • Does your agreement with them set out clear 'project milestones' and specifications for functional and content requirements?
  • Who is responsible for making sure the website complies with the law (eg. intellectual property, privacy and consumer laws)?
  • Is the copyright ownership of website content transferred to you?

Consumer laws

No doubt you provide a great customer service, but are you compliant with the Electronic Commerce Regulations and Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations? Businesses operating online face this double-pronged legal burden and not following the rules could make your business liable to a fine.

Full guides to the regulations are available from the Office of Fair Trading. The requirements include:

  • Clearly displaying key information like your business name and contact details; company and VAT number; descriptions of your products; prices and payment methods; and terms and conditions.
  • Allowing online customers to correct mistakes in their order and receive confirmation of it.
  • Making sure any promotional emails can be easily identified as advertising.

Data protection

Most businesses want to interact with their website users in some way, for example through online sales; promotional offers; or surveys. This generally involves obtaining personal information like their names and contacts details. You must comply with the Data Protection Act which sets out rules on the use, storage and deletion of data.

Under the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, you must clearly inform users about website cookies (except 'essential' ones like those used to record items in a shopping basket). For more sensitive personal data you might need to get explicit consent from users to the use of cookies.

Branding

A catchy business name is a huge asset and doubtless you will want to prevent others from using your brand to sell their own products and services. To protect your name fully, it is essential both to register website domain names containing your brand name and apply to the Intellectual Property Office for a trade mark.

Copyright

This refers to ownership of creative works like photos, sounds, texts and graphics. Using someone elses creation on your website without permission could be copyright infringement, which may trigger legal action against you. If you upload your own creative material to your website, this is automatically protected by copyright. However, it is worth putting the © symbol or writing 'all rights reserved' next to particularly valuable works to discourage people from pinching it.

Internet law cannot always keep pace with technological developments. So understanding how the law applies to your online activities can be tricky. If in doubt it is strongly advisable to seek advice from a recommended solicitor.



To learn more about copyright protection and copyright infringement, please visit: Contact Law



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