Your website and the law

Laptop displaying a website - Your website and the lawThere are a number of legal issues that you need to be aware of which affect your website - particularly on a launch or relaunch of your site

Dealing with web designers

If you use a web designer, make sure there is a clear, written agreement between you. Particularly, make sure they assign or license any 'intellectual property' (like copyright) in the website to you. If you don't they could use the same design for another client, withdraw your right to use the design, and stop you taking the design to another designer - you would have to start again.

Similarly, if your website is dependent on a software 'source code' to work, you must be absolutely sure you can carry on using this even if you change designers.

Be clear about what you want at the outset - one of the biggest causes of disputes is 'scope creep', when you keep adding extras to your original spec because you didn't think it through at the beginning. Set milestones for testing and link payment to these.

Be clear who will maintain the site - add to, remove or amend the existing content on the site, or add new pages. If you want to be able to do it, say so, and ensure staff training is included in the agreement. If the agency will do it, make it clear what they will do, and for how much.

Search engine optimisation

Your designers will ask you for 'keywords' that they will include on the website, and in the underlying code, so that your site can be found more easily by search engines like Google.

Do not use other people's names or trade marks in your keywords, so that a search using their name or mark also flags up your site, without taking advice. You may be infringing their rights by doing so.

Which server?

If your website is going to be stored ('hosted') on the server of an Internet Service Provider ('ISP') rather than on your own server, you need to negotiate a service level agreement that commits the ISP to key performance standards in areas such as website 'availability' or 'uptime' and is clear on how problems will be dealt with.

Make sure you are happy with the host's security - firewalls, anti-virus software, etc.

Overseas visitors

People outside the UK will be able to visit your website. There can be legal consequences if, for example, your website is illegal in other countries, or clauses in your website's terms of use are invalid in that other country. For example, clauses designed to limit your liability for any loss suffered by a visitor may be unlawful in other countries, leaving you exposed to unlimited claims there.

Limit your potential problems by clearly specifying which countries the website is targeted at on the site itself. A legal review of the laws in your key overseas markets is strongly recommended.


If your site contains advertising, it must be legal, decent, honest and truthful, and you must not misdescribe your products or services. Also following a recent change in the law, the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP code) now applies to Facebook, Twitter and any other non-paid-for online space you control (eg blogs or other social media sites such as LinkedIn etc.). Read an online version of the CAP code on the ASA website.

Beware non-UK visitors - for example, some countries prohibit comparative advertising, or advertising to minors.


Know which information you must provide to visitors, such as your business name and address and, if you are a limited company, place of registration, registered office address and company number. If your website includes prices, you must state whether these include VAT and delivery charges.

If users can buy or place orders on your site there are additional requirements. For example, you must provide written confirmation of orders, and tell consumers about their cancellation rights (if any).

The key regulations in this area are the E-Commerce Regulations, the Consumer Contracts (formerly Distance Selling) Regulations and the Companies Act 2006. You should take legal advice if they apply.

If you are dealing with consumers (ie individuals buying for themselves, and not on behalf of a business), there are also rules that prohibit you from using any unfair, misleading or aggressive commercial practices, including on your website. The rules include 31 practices that are treated as automatically unfair.

Do you capture visitor information (eg through registration) or use cookies?

Include a privacy policy on your site saying how you will use information. You must comply with data protection regulations covering how you process personal information. You may have to notify (register with) the Information Commissioner (if you have not already).

If you want to send marketing emails, you must either have specific 'opt-in' or already have a relationship with the target. You must always give targets the option to opt-out, both on your website and in any emails you send them. You also need to comply with the updated rules on cookies.

Third party content and hyperlinks

Only use third party content if you have been granted a licence by the copyright owner, and that it applies to use on the web. You should check any existing licence agreements.

Make sure links to other websites do not infringe third party intellectual property rights, eg by making it appear that their material is part of your website. Include a disclaimer on your website stating that you are not liable for the contents of third party websites.


Always include a disclaimer in your terms and conditions of use, to help limit your liability for any damage a user might suffer through relying on your advice.


Include a disclaimer on your website, limiting your liability for any damage a visitor suffers by downloading from your site, eg because the download includes a virus.

Disability discrimination

If visitors can buy goods or you provide product support on your website, you must take reasonable steps to ensure that it is not unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use these services and that you do not discriminate against them.

Chat rooms

If you offer a chat room/discussion forum, disclaim liability for visitors' postings in your terms and conditions of use, and monitor and remove inappropriate comment.

Phishing, cybersquatting, etc

Make sure other websites aren't diverting visitors to their sites using similar domain names and websites. Consider subscribing to a domain name monitoring service.

Sector-specific issues

If you are in a regulated industry, there may be special legal issues for your website. Take advice.

If in doubt, take legal advice.

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