Web developers and webmasters need to ensure that their sites comply with the varied and ever-changing requirements of English law. Although it is relatively simple to create and publish a website, the legal consequences of those simple acts can be complex - and potentially expensive. A myriad of different UK and EU laws intrude upon website design, domain name choice, website content, sales from websites, and indeed every other aspect of ecommerce and online activity.
What are the risks?
There are two kinds of legal liability: civil liability and criminal liability. Civil liability may lead to injunctions and damages payments; criminal liability could mean a fine and a criminal record, and possibly worse.
Unfortunately, websites can create both kinds of liability.
Issues of civil liability are more prevalent, although not necessarily less serious. For example, you need to be careful about copying text, images and other material from third parties - if you don't, you could find yourself on the wrong end of a copyright infringement lawsuit. You should also check that your domain name and other branding doesn't infringe another person's trade mark rights.
Intellectual property is just one issue affecting websites. Another big risk is libel. You should be conscious that any derogatory comments you or another person posts on your website could give rise to a defamation claim.
There is also a substantial body of legislation designed to help and protect consumers and others involved in online activity - which places special obligations upon website owners. Into this category we can place accessibility law, data protection law, emarketing law, and ecommerce law.
Some of these things (e.g. copyright infringement or breaches of data protection law) can give rise to criminal liability. Other areas of criminal law which are relevant to websites include the laws of contempt of court, obscenity and racial hatred.
How can we help?
We offer a range of free and premium products and services to help you comply with the law and manage the legal risks associated with running a website.
If you are looking for information about websites and the law, this website includes extensive legal resources and links to third party resources around the web. We also publish a blog which focuses upon the practical steps website owners can take in dealing with legal issues.
If you are looking for free documents for your website, we publish a selection of free legal documents.
The following individuals have expertise in the law relating to websites:
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