Privacy, copyright and use of information: A guide to website legal issues for startups

Startups with a website must understand the legalities involved. They need to abide by regulations regarding use and collection of information, as well as privacy and copyright issues. In general, as a startup, you should concern yourself with two sources of online liabilities:

  • Privacy issues: Your collection of people’s personal information
  • Copyright issues: Your use of other people’s content, and other people’s use of information and capabilities you make available

Websites and privacy: Collection and use of personal information

Jurisdictions all over the world are increasingly regulating businesses’ collection and use of personal information, especially in e-commerce settings.

If your website collects information about visitors, then you’ll need to have a privacy policy. Your Terms of Use can range from being relatively simple for non-interactive websites to relatively complex for sites that involve significant user interaction.

You can learn about the legal materials that might be suitable for your purposes by visiting websites similar to yours and reviewing their Terms of Use and privacy policies.

Use of content and copyright concerns with websites

Your first step in mitigating website-related risk is to carefully review the materials used on your website to confirm you have the necessary rights to use those materials.

If you have independently created content for your website then you shouldn’t have any problems. However, if you want to use materials obtained from other sources, you will need to proceed with caution and confirm you have the proper permission to use those materials.

Once you’ve vetted the content on your website, establish rules to govern other people’s use of it. This is typically done through the Terms of Use section of a website, which addresses a wide range of matters such as rights, conduct and liability.

Adding a copyright notice to your website

Lastly, remember to place a copyright notice on your website. Examples of copyright notices include:

  • Copyright 2009 by Company X. All rights reserved. This material may be copied online but may not be reproduced without written permission from Company X.
  • Copyright 2009 by Company X. All rights reserved. Unlimited permission to copy or use is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.
  • Copyright 2009 by Company X. All rights reserved. Federal copyright law prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means and imposes fines up to $XXX for violation.

This article was produced by James Smith and Shane MacLean and is made available through the generosity of Labarge Weinstein Professional Corporation.