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Why You Need to Customize and Update Your Website’s Terms of Service

Posted on in Online Contracts

St. Petersburg online contracts attorneyIf you are refreshing your business’s existing website or building a new one, where will you spend most of your time? Optimizing your home page? Making sure all of your product and service offerings are described to best advantage? Streamlining your check-out process to maximize e-commerce sales? 

In the process of perfecting your website, there is one page you might easily overlook: your Terms of Service, or TOS, agreement (sometimes called the website’s Terms of Use or User Agreement). You should know that a well-written Terms of Service agreement could actually prove as important to your business as any other page of your website.

What Is the Purpose of a Terms of Service Agreement?

A website’s TOS is similar to other legally-enforceable online contracts you might enter into, such as when you rent a car or sign up for a credit card. The TOS defines the relationship between and the expected behaviors of a website owner and the users of the website. For a business owner, the TOS is key to limit your exposure to costly legal disputes.

Why Do My Terms of Service Need to Be Customized? 

The specific terms and conditions for your business’s website or app really must be customized based on your business offering and how customers will interact with your website.

For example, a news service’s website typically contains some news stories available to the general public, additional articles available only to paid subscribers, and a variety of user-generated content, such as reader comments on articles or letters to the editor. To protect the newspaper’s own intellectual property, as well as to avoid accusations of copyright infringement, their terms and conditions must address copyright issues in greater depth than, say, a restaurant’s website that simply displays their menu and location. 

The news site’s TOS will also want to spell out a variety of other terms, including the rights of subscribers, fees and cancellation/renewal terms, minimum user age, and so on. In addition, given our country’s hotly polarized political climate, a strong TOS will spell out prohibited user actions (e.g., posting comments intended to degrade others on the basis of race, religion, etc. or to intimidate others) and the actions that the website may take if a user violates the terms of service. 

In a more dramatic case that began several years ago, a young American posted on his website the blueprints to make a 3D-printed firearm, which could potentially be downloaded by people in other countries. Within days, he was accused of violating a federal law that prohibits the export of weapons without a license. He took down the website until a settlement with the US Department of Justice was reached in 2018. Notably, the revived website’s TOS specifically calls out “prohibited uses” of the website, including an agreement not to use the website “in any way that violates any applicable federal, state, local, or international law or regulation (including, without limitation, any laws regarding the export of data or software to and from the US or other countries).”

Today, even small businesses have increasingly sophisticated websites which offer high-value content and user discussion forums, encourage customers to write product reviews, and even reward users who post their own photos, stories, or testimonials. If you have not reviewed or updated your website’s Terms of Service agreement in the past few years, now might be a good time to revisit it.

Consult an Experienced Tampa Cyber Law Attorney 

If your business has a website or app, you need the legal protection of a well-written Terms of Service agreement. Inadequate terms could leave you exposed to a lawsuit, fines, or enforcement actions by state or federal agencies. A St. Petersburg cyber law attorney who is highly knowledgeable in online contracts can help. At Nelson Cyber Law, PLLC, we can review your current terms and recommend updates, or we can draft customized user agreements for your new business’s website or app. Call 1-800-440-5536 today to schedule a free consultation.

Sources:

https://www.wired.com/story/a-landmark-legal-shift-opens-pandoras-box-for-diy-guns/

https://ghostgunner.net/pages/website-terms-of-use

https://www.breitbart.com/terms-of-use/

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