Develop a Terms of Use for Your Web Site

Hostway Tech Team - March 22, 2010

By Melissa J Luther

A Web site Terms of Use is a document detailing users’ rights and responsibilities when visiting your Web site, as well as your obligations towards users. The more information you collect and the greater interactivity you provide, the greater the responsibility for both sides.

Most businesses should have at least basic terms posted to protect themselves and their users. Spell out each term clearly, including how you will respond to any violations. State also what recourse users have if they feel they have been wronged.

Parts of a Terms of Use

Your specific details will depend on your business, but at a minimum, you will want to consider the following:

  • Customer/Visitor Rights and Responsibilities: This is often broken into sections such as Acceptance of Terms, Use of Content, Payment and others as needed. Indicate what action establishes acceptance of your terms. Describe permissible use of content, differentiating between freely available and restricted content, as well as free and paid access. Detail users’ responsibility regarding their accounts and in what instances you can cancel an account. If you allow user-generated content, indicate what is and is not an acceptable post.
  • Your Rights and Responsibilities: Your main obligation is protecting visitors’ information, and you may want to link to your privacy policy. You should reserve the right to monitor all site activity and take appropriate action as necessary. If your site is one children may reasonably be expected to use, you also need to comply with the Children Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
  • Other Legalities: You will want to spell out trademark and copyright protections. Most standard Terms of Use also include statements limiting the site owner’s liability for any harm visitors may experience, as well as a disclaimer about the up-to-dateness of the site content.

Do You Need a Lawyer?

In most cases, you should consult a lawyer before finalizing your Terms of Use. Having a lawyer write the entire thing may be too expensive for a small business, and in most cases is not necessary. Write what you believe to be acceptable terms. Then let your lawyer review it, point out any omissions or potential problems, and suggest revisions.

To get started, you can review similar business’ terms, but do not copy or even modify them, as that violates copyright laws. The exception is if they include a Creative Commons license, in which case you are free to take and modify them for your use. Keep in mind that other business’ terms may not fully describe your situation. Tell your lawyer if you have used Creative Commons licensed terms as a guideline.

A better option may be a template. Many Web sites offer free or low-cost business forms, and Allbusiness’ forms are, according to their site, developed and approved by attorneys. Their sample Terms of Use, at only $25, is a cost-effective way to get started.

No matter how you create it, a clearly worded Terms of Use will help shape visitors’ expectations regarding use of your Web site.

About the Author

Melissa J Luther, owner and founder of LookSee Information Solutions, LLC, helps small businesses create and maintain a strong Internet presence. She takes a multi-channel approach, with a well-optimized Web site as the center of an Internet presence that includes content creation, PPC advertising, linking and social media as appropriate.

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