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Website Agreement Forms Are for Companies Who Can’t Afford Legal Services

traverselegal - July 12, 2012 - Internet Law, Website Agreement Tips

You need a website agreement that is going to capture the essence of your business model. Many companies – when they’re looking for these initial website agreements, especially when they’re start-ups – go to the Internet and look for a website agreement form or to a website that offers a variety of website forms on them in order to craft their website agreements.

What is a Website Agreement?

Website agreements are the Terms of Use (TOU), Terms of Service (TOS), Privacy Agreement and Copyright Policy that include the contract terms between you and every website visitor.  It is your most important set of contracts for your business as it controls the contract terms between you and thousands of people who visit your website monthly.  you link to from the footer of your website.

Why are Website Agreements Important?

Your Terms of Use (TOU), Terms of Service (TOS), Privacy Agreement and Copyright Policy are contracts that you can be sued under by website visitors.  As importantly, your rights in the content, your trademarks, copyrights and data are set forth in these website terms and conditions.  You have special risk with your privacy policy as certain countries and states in the United States have special laws which govern privacy, use of data and other liability issues for your company. Yes, you can be sued for breaching your own website policies.  Traverse Legal handled a class action by users of a website, who sued on a class action basis for consumer fraud using the terms of use and privacy policy as key evidence against the website owner. Traverse Legal won a $26 million dollar verdict against the website owner.

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You need a website agreement that is going to capture the essence of your business model. Many companies – when they’re looking for these initial website agreements, especially when they’re start-ups – go to the Internet and look for a website agreement form or to a website that offers a variety of website forms on them in order to craft their website agreement.

My name is Internet Law Attorney, Enrico Schaefer and I’m here to tell you why you should actually focus in on hiring an attorney to customize your website agreement to your own particular business model. Website agreement forms are great. They’re out there. You can find them for free. In some instances, you can pick them up off of a forms website for anywhere between $40 and $60, but those website forms are for companies that cannot afford to have the forms customized to their business model.

As an internet law attorney who sees websites every single day both succeed and fail, we understand that money is an issue. You do need to prioritize your budget so that you’re spending money on the legal services that are going to matter most for you. But with virtually any company, the website agreements that you put in place, including your terms of service and your privacy agreement, are the key contract between you and your website visitors. If you’re allowing website visitors to register on your website, it is the primary agreement between you and the registered users. If you have an e-commerce website where you’re taking money, that website agreement, that terms of service, that privacy agreement is going to spell out the relationship between you and your paying website customers.

It’s the contract that governs your relationship. Now, you wouldn’t enter into a service agreement or a sales agreement with a customer without having dealt with the issue of who’s liable for what. What are the maximum damages? Where is the appropriate venue? All the other critical elements that are going to govern the contractual relationship between you and the people who you are doing business with. You shouldn’t do that on the Internet either. It does not cost much money to be able to put an effective set of website agreements in place. You don’t have to use website agreement forms in order to get up to that version one websites. You can actually budget in enough money to pay an attorney fee for a law firm that specializes in website agreements, and get something in place that is going to be tailored to your particular risks.

So, if you do this properly, what you’re going to end up with is a version 1 website agreement, which will be terms of service and privacy agreement. Perhaps, some other agreements as well that you can then upgrade at a later date. What you want to do is you want to start with a base model. You can budget that in. Then, as your business model develops, as revenue permits, you can budget some more money so that you can craft even more sophisticated website agreements, which again match your business model. That’s the key from an Internet law point of view.

Whatever your business model is, that is going to spit out what version, what kind, what types of paragraphs you’re going to need in your website agreements. That’s what website forms don’t do. They’re a one size fits all solution that takes into zero account your particular business needs, risk tolerance, your particular relationships with your customers. A form is just that. It’s a form. Because the website agreements on your website are the most important contractual relationship that you have, to protect your company from getting sued by website visitors, by customers, by registered users, you will need to make sure it is tailored to suit your particular needs.

There are always two issues that you’re looking at. One is you want to have a good customer service model, where you’re up front with your customers and you respect the things that are most important to the relationship between you and your website visitors. It’s not necessarily about saying that the website visitors are completely out of luck. It’s not about telling them that you’re going to use their private information for anything that you want. You’re going to sell it to third parties. Certainly, a lot of companies don’t fit in to that model. They want to build a relationship between themselves and their website visitors. They want to respect their website visitors’ privacy.

And so, they build a model based on what is a fair and reasonable approach to the website agreements that they put in place. On the other hand, you do want to protect yourself from the company litigation. If someone files a single class action lawsuit against you, representing all website visitors – and they take issue with something that you’ve done or some perceived slight or consumer fraud that they believe has occurred on your site – then the first thing a court is going to look at, and the first thing the lawyers are going to look at is the terms of service and the privacy policy. That will govern the base of the relationship between you and your users.

That website agreement could, by the way, say that there are no class actions. That may or may not be enforceable, but it certainly is a barrier that you might want to have in place if you’ve got a high-risk website. As an Internet law attorney who specializes in drafting website agreements, what I’m telling you is this. Website agreement forms are not the answer, unless you just don’t have any funds to dedicate to that project right now, and you need to get something in place in order to start generating revenue. If you’re in that boat, you might just have to bite the bullet and use a website agreement forms service in order to get in play.

But you should understand that as soon as revenue comes in, you’re going to want a website agreement drafting attorney to step in and either put something new in place, or modify what you’ve had in place in terms of your terms of service, your privacy agreement, and your other website agreements.

My name is Internet Law Attorney, Enrico Schaefer. We’ll see you next time.

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