Your Small Business Website and the Law

When you operate a small business website, one of the most important questions about that website is what content to include. It’s easy enough to claim a domain and buy cheap and affordable web hosting, but when it comes to designing your website and writing textual content, where do you begin?

Some small business owners make the mistake of simply modeling their website from other existing websites. That leads to a host of potential website legal issues that could not only put your website in jeopardy, but also your entire business. On the flip side, it is common for small business owners to forego protecting their own legal website content, which leads to lost money due to copyright infringement.

Here are a few strategies to help you keep on the right side of the law.

Ask Permission To Use Anything

As mentioned, it would seem easy to find a website you like and simply download a few images and background graphics to incorporate into your website. It may even seem like a form of flattery and an homage to the content creator.

On the same token, it is commonplace to “share” other content like photos and videos on website blogs and social media accounts. However, this activity, though it is common practice, wanders into the gray shades of intellectual property laws. Since using any type and form of content found anywhere else is strictly against the law, you could end up facing a list of website legal issues.

Now, you may think that by posting other content and simply attributing ownership will do the trick. Or even just using a portion of someone else’s content and giving full credit and a link will protect you. But you would be wrong.

To help protect your legal website content, you should follow a very simple rule: ask permission to use anything you did not create yourself. Getting permission helps you avoid website legal issues and copyright infringement, and it protects you from legal website content litigation.

Permission doesn’t even have to be a complicated, multi-page legal contract. Asking permission can be as easy as emailing a copyright owner and asking permission to use specific content (text, photos, videos, etc.) on your website. Also be specific on how you intend to use it and for how long. In most cases, the content owner will be happy you asked and promptly grant your request.

Copyright Your Original Content

To also help protect you from legal website content issues, take full advantage of copyright and intellectual laws. Though your original intellectual property is protected at the moment of creation, it is wise to display that the content is protected by copyright with the “©” symbol. This may include:

  • Original marketing copy
  • Graphics
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Audio
  • Other (Brand name trademark, etc)

When protecting your small business content, avoid website legal issues from independent contractors who may create the content for you. For instance, if you use a professional graphic artist to create your logo, that artist owns the copyright unless you specify that the content is work-for-hire and the resulting content belongs to you. That goes for photographers, videographers, jingle composers, etc.

Stay in Line with Privacy Policies and Laws

When you post content that includes names or other private information about others, be sure you obtain permission for that as well. For instance, say you took a photograph of your customers enjoying your product and want to post it on your website as a promotional image. By posting their image without permission, you could fall into website legal issues and even be sued for using their image for commercial purposes.

Be Transparent About Endorsements or Other Business Relationships

You can also avoid website legal issues by displaying information about other business arrangements. For instance, say you want to write an endorsement about a product, but you have an active joint venture with the manufacturer. Be sure your customers do not feel deceived about an “objective” endorsement when in fact you could benefit financially from that product’s sale.

As mentioned, there is a wide area where website legal issues can arise. Be sure you take every precaution and obey the law for your legal website content.