In the highly-litigious society we live in today, forgetting to create a terms and conditions page is probably not a good idea.
In almost any sort of business transaction, provider and consumer enter into a kind of contract. For instance, consider what happens when you buy something at the supermarket. The price listed on the item is what you contractually have to pay to take that item home. If we don’t have enough money, the clerk tells us we need more money. We can steal it and violate their “terms and conditions,” or we can pay the listed price.
You, however, are trying to be the store in the analogy above. So, here are four reasons why your website needs a terms and conditions page:
For starters, terms and conditions pages are a guard against any foreseeable or logical claims that might come up. For example, healthcare businesses often state that any advice they give is simply an opinion and results may vary. This keeps the business liability-free. So if someone follows the advice and doesn’t get the desired outcome, the business won’t get sued.
Businesses also use the page to guard against improper use of their website and products. For example, many cleaning products have statements like, “It is a violation of Federal Law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.” In short, people are always doing dumb things and then blaming any undesired outcome on the product they used. A terms and conditions page protects you.
However, a terms and conditions page doesn’t automatically shield the company from all legal issues. A bouncy castle rental company can protect itself from liability if people don’t follow usage guidelines, but the company is responsible if they create a substandard product that’s defective and dangerous.
Another form of liability for most websites sits in the comment section. Most websites create a forum for online discussion at the bottom of each page. Spammers and trolls occasionally post comments intended to offend or scam users. You can avoid being held responsible for that through a well-worded terms and conditions page. Just add a disclaimer that says your business doesn’t endorse any commenters and can’t be held responsible for what they say.
This part of the terms and conditions page is a pretty hot topic right now. Websites that collect information from clients have to spell out exactly how that information will be used, whether it’s mundane email addresses or crucial credit card information, businesses must let users know where where it all goes.
These pages shouldn’t be just for liability. Terms and conditions pages also tells users who owns logos, website design, and other assets on the website. Many small business websites have an intellectual property clause attached to their terms and conditions pages. Ours states that ZipBooks owns and operates our app, website, and services. We also have a little copyright symbol and date at the bottom of our website to show that our copyright to our material is properly dated.
Terms and conditions pages also set up the specific rules users should follow when using the site.
For our website, we collect certain business and other contact information. Without doing so, we wouldn’t be able to legally or ethically assist small-business owners. We can only assist them to the extent of their compliance with our website rules.
To keep the rule of law on the site owner’s side, simply put which state or national laws govern your website. For example: “These terms and conditions are governed by the laws of the United States of America and the laws of the State of Utah.
With social media sites, post rules that specify what users can and cannot say. The rule of law does not tolerate hate speech, violent threats, etc. Make sure that you also follow state and national laws.
We recommend doing something you were told never to do in school: copying.
We’re not saying create a shot-for-shot remake of a competitor page. A toy store probably shouldn’t copy the terms and conditions page of a hospital. But using a similar business’s page as a baseline is a good way to get started.
But even those have a disclaimer: “This does not substitute for professional legal advice.” After creating a draft, get a lawyer to help perfect your website’s legalese.
With that, you’ll have a legally clean terms and conditions page to help set the expectations of your website. And even if no one ever reads it, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Tim is Founder and CEO of ZipBooks. He keeps his desk really nice and neat.