Danger dot com

A website can represent a legal risk says DLA Piper's Tsung Wei Wong in the first of a two part series.

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By  Tsung Wei Wong Published  December 17, 2007

The exponential expansion of the world wide web has resulted in it being a virtual necessity for any company to have a website in some form or other. Such websites may range from a single static web page to those containing downloadable multimedia, online chat rooms or even online sales capabilities. Naturally, the type of website will determine the amount and level of legal risk the owner of the website is likely to face. In this two-part article, we focus on the top ten legal risks faced by commercial websites on the internet today.

1. Ownership of your website content

When engaging a professional web page developer to conceptualise, design, and host your website, it is important to be aware of the terms of your agreement with the developer, and specifically, what it says about who owns the design and/or content on the website. It may be important to retain ownership of the design and the content you place online.

2. Ensure proper terms of use for your website

It is important for your website to clearly set out complete and proper terms of use. Failing to do so would be akin to giving a blank cheque to users of your website. In particular, websites which have chat rooms or other forms of online community should ensure that proper rules are in place for its members.

3. Bringing the terms of use to the notice of the user

Commercial transactions are always subject to the terms agreed between the parties, and commercial transactions performed online are no different - they are subject to the terms and conditions of the website. This puts a greater obligation on ensuring that the website terms are brought to the user's attention and accepted by the user. At the same time, it is important to ensure that the terms of use do not "clutter up" the website with legal detail. The effectiveness of your website is a balance between its aesthetic appeal. legal protection and user-friendliness.

4. Types of goods or services being advertised or sold online

When goods or services for sale online, it is important to ensure that your website complies with the laws and regulations of the country you sell in and/or the jurisdiction you choose. This would include ensuring that the goods, services or even the type of advertising offered are permitted and lawful in the country in which they are being or may potentially be offered for sale. You may choose to, for example, set out warning notices to users from certain countries.

5. Privacy and data protection issues

If your website collects user information, whether through "cookie" technology or user registration, then appropriate privacy policies may be necessary. A privacy policy addresses issues such as what you will or will not do with the user's personal information, with whom it will be shared, under what circumstances, and how it will be kept "private". Needless to say, what is appropriate depends on factors such as the country in which the website is likely to operate and where your users will come from. It is worthwhile pointing out that some companies or users may refuse to do business with you if you do not have an appropriate privacy policy.

Tsung Wei Wong Legal Consultant (Technology, Media and Commercial Group) DLA Piper Middle East LLP.

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