Ryan Boudreaux offers some guidance on several legal matters that web designers need to address, possibly with the aid of a professional legal adviser.
In this installment of quick tips for web design, I'll focus on legal aspects including disclosure, licensing, and copyright. Remember that in any legal and contract situation you should get the advice of a legal professional; this article is a good starting point for early discussions with your legal adviser.
#1 DisclosureDo you have a blog? If so, do you frequently review products from other companies and manufacturers that provide payment or free merchandise? Be sure to mention that fact in your blog post, and whether the product was provided for free or payment. It is also a good idea to have a disclaimer or disclosure policy statement that explicitly affirms how you treat marketing standards and any compensation for product reviews.
Are you a contractor or freelance web designer who builds web sites for other people, organizations, or businesses? Then you should make sure that you have a signed contract with each client that becomes the legally binding agreement between you and the customer. And make sure that your contracts are bulletproof, meaning that the document should reflect everything that you and your client have agreed upon during the discussion stages and sales process. It protects you as well as the client by specifying the expectations, and allows you to be prepared should the customer be unable to fulfill or meet their end of the deal or contract requirements.
Always consult with or have a lawyer or legal adviser review your contracts to verify them before they are binding or signed. For the frugal minded, it is cheaper to have your contracts reviewed than it is to have them custom written from scratch by legal advisers.
Do you have a licensing policy and procedure for your web design or product? There are many sources available for creative commons or open source licensing, and many are boilerplate statements which offer several options to fit most situations. Creative Commons licenses provide simple, standardized alternatives to the "all rights reserved" paradigm of traditional copyright. Answer a few questions about your work, such as will you allow commercial use or not, and do you want to allow derivative work based on your original work; your responses will help to pin down the type of licensing you want on your creation and design.
The Open Source Initiative (OSI) are stewards of the Open Source Definition (OSD) and the commonly recognized body for reviewing and approving licenses for OSD works. Open source licenses are provided in many categories and names, including the popular GNU General Public License, Attribution Assurance Licenses, and special purpose licenses such as Educational Community License, NASA Open Source Agreement 1.3, and Open Font License 1.1.
Along the same line with licensing, a copyright statement, while not completely necessary, is always a good reference to have on your web sites. Because ignorance of copyright infringement is not a valid excuse in a US court of law, all original works are considered copyrighted when fixed in a medium and do not need to be registered. There are exceptions in about 20 countries where a copyright notice is still required for the work to be protected. If you feel that your work has been stolen and you have been a victim of copyright infringement, there are resources to help you deal with the matter. For instance, Lorelle on WordPress has a great three part series on "What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Content." She includes topics on how to identify the source, contacting the content thief, issuing cease and desist orders, contacting the advertisers, requesting a ban from search engines, and more tips for dealing with stolen content.
Have you been a victim of copyright infringement? If so, how did you handle the incident?