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Legal Pages for Websites

What Legal Pages Should All Websites Have?

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Legal pages for websites include things like:

  • Privacy policies
  • Copyright notices
  • Terms and conditions of use
  • Disclaimers
  • Accessibility information
  • Abuse or complaints contact information
  • Trademarks
  • Patents
  • Other corporate policies
  • Anything else your lawyers say you should have

Which Legal Pages Should Every Website Have?

The short answer is, "it depends". And there is no rule saying that a website needs to have any legal pages whatsoever. You need to take a look at your website and evaluate it (with or without legal counsel) to determine if you need a specific type of legal page. Here are some thoughts on the most common types of legal pages and when you might want or need them.

Privacy Policies

Privacy policies are one legal page that any site that collects any type of information from their customers should have. A privacy policy should cover:

  • Your use of cookies and other trackers
  • How you use personal information collected
  • Who you distribute collected information to
  • Contact infomation for erasing private information
  • Information about third-party sites that might collect information (such as advertisers)
  • Editing dates when the document is changed

One good way to create a privacy policy is to use a P3P policy editor to build your privacy policy. This will create an XML file that browsers can use to assist your readers in using your privacy policy.

Copyright Notices

It's very important to include a copyright notice on all of your Web pages. But that doesn't mean that you need a specific page about your copyright. Most sites that have a specific page about their copyright do so because the copyright is complicated. For example, while we don't have a specific page, About.com could post a copyright page indicating that the copyright is held jointly by the author of the article (me, in this article's case) and the New York Times Company. There are also other pages on my site that have different copyright ownership details. But since the New York Times Company is a partner in all the pages, they just save time by putting an all-enclusive copyright notice at the bottom of all pages:

©2010 About.com, a part of The New York Times Company.

Terms and Conditions of Use

Many websites include a terms and conditions of use document on their site. This explains what actions are allowed and disallowed while using the website. You can include things like:

  • How to credit content and images from the site
  • Whether registration is required for posting content
  • The types of user submitted content that is allowed and disallowed
  • Situations where user submitted content would be removed or changed
  • The use of framed links and deep linking into the site
  • And anything else you'd like to mandate

Keep in mind that while these terms and conditions can be very popular with website owners, except in the case of registration, they can be very difficult to enforce. There have not been a lot of test cases to determine whether deep linking or using content in an iframe is a copyright violation or otherwise illegal. And while taking images and content is a copyright violation, you have to find them first before you can go after them.

But if your site uses a forum, blog comments, or other user submitted content, you should strongly consider having a terms of use document. On About.com we have a User Agreement. It covers things like:

  • Who owns the content and what you can do to get permission to use it
  • That the forums and other user submitted content are not monitored and may contain objectionable content
  • That anything submitted to About.com through the forums and other areas is licensed to About.com
  • ...And so on...

Disclaimers

Disclaimers are like a simplified version of a terms and conditions document. They are used on sites where there is a lot of user submitted content that isn't moderated by the site owners or where there are a lot of links to external pages.

Accessibility Information

Many government sites are required to be accessible. And one feature of an accessible site is to have access keys to various parts of the pages. Adding an accessibility key can be helpful so that new customers know what keys do what on your site. Accessibility information pages can also include links to contact pages when a page is inaccessible or help finding alternatives for things like videos or audio streams.

Complaints or Feedback Pages

While these aren't really legal pages, they can be useful, especially for sites that get a lot of customer interaction. Feedback links can help customers by giving them a place to complain before they go to a lawyer, thus reducing legal issues.

Patents, Trademarks, and other Corporate Policies

If your website or company has relevant patents and trademarks, you should have a page that details them. And if there are other corporate policies that you want your customers to know about, you should have pages for them as well.

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