Terms of Service agreements for your website protect you and should help your users. Ryan Boudreaux asks an expert for some best practice advice and provides some other resources for help.
Does your web site have a Terms of Service (TOS) statement or agreement? While many organizations do have a TOS statement or agreement, most of them are applied to protect the organization and not the visitor or end user. In fact, many organizations require that website visitors and users create an account and agree to their TOS, but fail to inform the users when the TOS changes or gets updated. How do you think your web site TOS stacks up with other organizations' websites that also require similar official statements? Does your small to medium sized business (SMB) use a TOS for its website?
Another concern involves the user rights which are violated when organizations utilize user content for their benefit, circumventing normal copyright laws for images, personal information, and other content. Take Facebook, for instance, which has a very broad copyright license on your content; in fact, according to Terms of Service Didn't Read, the copyright license that you grant to Facebook goes beyond the requirements for operating the service. For example, it includes the right for Facebook to transfer the license or to license it to others on their terms ("sublicense"). Also, the copyright license does not end when you stop using the service unless your content has been deleted by everyone else. Does this seem fair to the typical end user? Probably not, but Facebook continues to operate with its Full Data Use Policy and a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which outlines information it receives and how it is used; sharing and finding yourself on Facebook, other websites and applications; how advertising and Sponsored Stories work; privacy, and many more items that you can read from the links.
Q&A with David Weslow
- The scope of the site usage license
- Appropriate and inappropriate uses of the site
- Access restrictions including age limitations
- Intellectual property policies and complaint processing protocols
- Rules for user generated content and comments
- Data collection and privacy policies
- A limitation of liability for site errors, down time, or technical problems
I want to thank David for answering these questions about TOS and how they relate to SMB organizations and their online Internet web presence.
Sample and template TOSs
Many organizations have legal teams that are tasked with drafting and maintaining the TOS for their websites; however, for SMBs, it is not always feasible or economical to spend a lot of resources on your TOS statements and agreements. There are several resources for creating generic TOSs, and I've included them in this short list below.
- Free website terms and conditions - Provided by Free Net Law includes free legal notices such as "Privacy Statement", Website Terms and Conditions", "Website Disclaimer", Copyright Notice", "Cookies Policy", and others which are provided in .doc document form for download.
- Website Standard Terms and Conditions Template - Provided by Entrepreneur is a downloadable PDF document which includes a privacy statement, confidentiality, disclaimer, payment, cancellation policy, and others.
It is a good rule of thumb to have a set of TOS agreements and/or statements available on your website, but it also becomes a delicate balance between protecting your organization and not offending your user base. Finding the right sense of balance is essential to keeping both your company in business and keeping your customers happy.