Last week, your Denver business attorney was lucky enough to get out of dodge and headed up to the gorgeous town of Breckenridge, CO to speak at the Colorado Women’s Small Business Development Conference. While I got out of the heat of Denver, I spoke about a topic that can get a business into a lot of hot water: online marketing. When setting up a business website, business owners worry about issues such as search engine rankings, visibility, and usability. However, many times they forget to think about whether the website is opening them up to liability issues. In today’s blog, I am going to briefly speak about what a terms of use is. Stay tuned next week to learn about privacy policies and the week after to hear a few things about copyright policies!

Terms of Use Policies

A terms of use, sometimes also referred to as a terms of service, is the agreement a user of a website enters into with the website owner. Typically, a terms of use states what the rights and obligations are of both the users of the site, the owners of the site, and browsers of the site. It ensures that everyone knows what they can and can’t do. For some sites the terms of use is fairly short. For instance, a site which is for a small audience and doesn’t allow comments is going to have a much smaller terms of use than a e-commerce social media site where people interact and buy and sell things.

What You Need To Include

A good terms of use will cover the issues that a site owner may encounter with a website user that would result in legal issues. Ninety-nine percent of terms of uses will include a basic description of what the site is going to be used for, whose law controls any disputes (i.e. Colorado or Vermont or Utah), where disputes are heard (i.e. Denver district court, Clay County, Florida, etc), whether the rights of a user can be transferred, and basic contract language (for more on this, attend one of my Contract Basic classes). In addition, depending on the site, terms of use may include clauses that are e-commerce specific (sales, shipping, and return policies); social media specific (account, user interactions, and uploading policies); or profession specific (attorney disclaimers, real estate disclaimers, etc).

Why You Need One

If your business is online, you need a terms of use. It may be something as simple as a few paragraphs if your website is only an online business card or it may become several different documents if you end up running a website as large as Google, Facebook, or MSN. If you don’t have one, especially if you are providing products or services through your website, you may find that you are fighting court battles in places you never expected (and didn’t particularly want to go) when a transaction goes wrong.

If you find yourself in need of a terms of use because you are starting an e-commerce site or have never had a website for your business, please call me, your online business law attorney at 720-258-6647.