If you operate a website, there are 5 critical questions you should be asking yourself about website liability and your website agreements.

 

1) Do you understand the laws that affect your online business or activities? You may not be aware of all the major changes to existing guidelines by the FTC, FCC and other regulatory agencies in the past few years, but there have been plenty. 

 

2) Do you trust an attorney you find on Elance or Odesk charging far below market rates that is either a “jack-of-all-trades” or fresh out of law school or a lawyer who handles speeding tickets, drafts Wills and also claims to be able to handle your website legal documents?

 

3) Do you trust some large, corporate website to basically provide a cookie-cutter approach for your website legal documents and online legal health? 

 

4) Do you believe a generic template you find on the web or a free generic website terms or privacy policy generator will properly protect your business or personal assets?

 

5) Are you aware that copying and using some other website’s terms and conditions, privacy policy, etc. amounts to copyright infringement, even where you “customize” those documents? Not only is that a bad strategy to protect you or your business, its against the law!

 

With the evolution of the Internet, there are now a few different options available to website and Internet business owners to help avoid liability. Traditional legal services are now available through online freelance forums such as Elance or oDesk at discounted prices. There are also prepaid legal services. Finally, automated document generator services and legal document software options are available.

But, are these options good ones? The seismic shift in the legal industry due to technology has actually resulted in a massive dilution of the quality of legal services available to the consumer. Now, any fresh law school graduate can hang his or her shingle on their own and go about the practice of law. Freelance forums give these attorneys (along with their more experienced counterparts) a direct window to potentially interested customers. Not to mention there are roughly 2.5 new law graduates for every actual law firm job (unless you count record store managers)!

You may be thinking that all of this new exposure is a good thing for me and you as consumers. After all, choices are supposed to be a good thing. But, with legal protection, the answer actually ranges from not really to sometimes.

Unfortunately, money is the driving force behind most decisions made by small business owners and individual consumers. This is especially true when it comes to legal protection. Most people don’t want to knowingly put their assets at risk. When website operators do become aware of the fact their website exposes them or their business to liability, almost all of them would like to do something about it.

The decision whether or not to address online liability usually comes down to the perception of value. Some website operators and Internet businesses see no value in addressing online legal risks. They are unconcerned about liability, either because they are unaware of the gravity of the risks or simply feel they don’t have the money to pay an attorney. Some website operators may believe that if they cannot afford a qualified attorney to handle their legal needs, no value lies with any other option. Others may see value by using a cheap jack-of-all-trades attorney or by using generic templates or free document generators. Those operators undoubtedly feel that the odds of actually being sued or held in violation of the law by some regulatory agency are slim to none.

Yet, the horror stories continue to mount for successful website and Internet business owners every day.

When it comes to direct legal services, the client absolutely receives the services he, she or it pays for. This means when you pay for an inexperienced attorney who doesn’t understand the legal concerns facing website and Internet business operators, you or your business may be left exposed! When you use a large, corporate automated document service for your important website and e-commerce legal documents, who is drafting the clauses that make up your documents? Is it an experienced Internet and e-commerce law attorney? Does that service update the document clauses to keep up with important changes in the law or in third-party policies such as Google Adwords or Adsense?

Most importantly, will those documents you get elsewhere be detailed enough to provide meaningful protection specific to your online activities? The “Internet” attorney you hire today may draft a Will for one customer and handle a speeding ticket locally for another tomorrow.

 

 

Website and Internet business owners that cannot afford a highly skilled Internet attorney but see the inherent flaws with existing online legal “solutions” may feel like they have no real options. But, there is an alternative between using generic, cookie-cutter website legal forms or paying an Internet attorney thousands of dollars to build them from scratch! My law firm offers affordable, flat-fee website legal document package pricing for most types of websites.