18 March 2022

How to legally protect your website: 4 must-haves for every business

by Stephanie Lummis

If you’ve ever asked one of these questions, stay right here. I provide all the answers.

  • Do I need terms of use for my website?
  • What legal disclaimers are needed?
  • Do I need to put a copyright on my website?
  • Is a website privacy policy required by law?

Our websites are an open invitation for people to get to know us and what we have to offer. But we often don’t think about the fact that things can go wrong.

How can we reduce the legal risk?

I recently attended a webinar led by Corinne Boudreau of Online Legal Essentials called, “Top 3 Ways to Prevent a Legal Mess in Your Canadian Online Business.” It’s a topic that comes up from time to time with my clients. (prevention, not messes).

I knew the basics, but I wasn’t aware of the specifics and what is required vs. nice-to-have. But when it comes to the law, it’s all about specifics. (Note, this is Canadian information.)

4 ways to legally protect your website

So here they are. As Corinne says, “4 things to have on your website to prevent potential types of legal messes with people who interact with you.”

1. Copyright notice

Copyright protects content, and that is what your website is – a platform for content.

The short form copyright is what you see in website footers. It consists of the symbol and your name and date like this:

© Stephanie Lummis UX Consulting & Training 2022. All rights reserved.

You should also have a long form copyright statement. This basically states: “This is mine, don’t copy it or reproduce it without my permission.”

© Stephanie Lummis UX Consulting & Training 2022. All Rights Reserved.

This website and its content are protected by Canadian copyright law. Except as otherwise provided for under Canadian copyright law, this work and its content may not be copied, published, distributed, downloaded or otherwise stored in a retrieval system, transmitted or converted, in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.

You don’t have to register a copyright to have protection – stating it is enough. It isn’t going to stop anyone from swiping your content, but it can help you enforce ownership if it does happen.

2. Privacy policy

Federal law requires you to have a privacy policy for your website (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA)).

It should describe all the personal information that you collect from website visitors, how you use it, and what you are doing to protect it.

Personal info is anything that could identify a specific person.

  • Factual details like phone number, credit card number, address
  • Subjective information like health records or credit details

There was another participant on a webinar who was a dating coach. Imagine the juicy details they have about their customers!

So, what are you collecting on your website? Do you have a form that asks people for personal info? Put it in your policy. It’s not only forms. Your system may store any information that someone emails you from your site.

Corinne added a special note for regulated health practitioners. Some provinces have additional rules to follow. If this is you, do some research.

3. Legal disclaimers

Legal disclaimers set the boundaries for your website visitors. They “protect you from liability if someone misuses or misapplies information that you have shared on your website.”

You are providing info, not professional advice. You’re not responsible for how they apply the info; they must use their own judgement.

Be transparent about compensation that you get for recommending products or services.

It’s not required in Canada, (it is in the US) but your disclaimer should clarify that particular results aren’t guaranteed. State that any testimonials or endorsements don’t mean you’ll see similar results.

4. Terms of use

Website terms of use are the ground rules. They will:

  • reference the 3 pieces we talked about: privacy policy, disclaimer, copyright notice
  • include things like: contract terms, warranties, refund and cancellation policies
  • state warnings such as, this type of person should not use this product

Protect your investment

There you go – 4 must-have legal protections. In short, cover your a$$ and heed Corinne’s advice!

If you’d like help bringing your website up to code from a legal standpoint, Corinne offers some excellent templates and instruction.

In the spirit of disclaimers, this ☝️is an affiliate link. When I contacted Corinne to ask permission to use her webinar content, I didn’t know she had an affiliate program. But, she’s awesome and now I’m a part of it.

Are there other gaps in your website content that are hindering its performance? See how a user experience audit can help.