In last month’s issue we looked at some of the specific legal obligations that are imposed on website owners. This month, we consider some other legal obligations which aren’t unique to website owners, but which directly affect them too. By Sarah Gopaul, Mayo Wynne Baxter


The first is the requirement to show a user privacy policy. Privacy policies are mandatory for all websites. Website owners are required to say what visitor or client data will be harvested, and how it will be used. There are criminal sanctions for non-compliance – fines of up to £5,000.

If you have a website then it must have your privacy policy on it, and that policy must be clearly set out and accessible (even on a smart phone). It should not, for example, be obscured by banners and should be accessible using the main browsers.

Typically, website privacy policies cover:
A) What data is collected
B) Who is collecting the data
C) Why the data is being collected (i.e. intended usage)
D) How the data is collected
E) How long the data is retained
F) Whether the data is shared
G) How (and if) visitors/clients can access their data, change their data, or delete their data
H) How (and if) visitors/clients can opt-out 

Many website designers who build platforms provide free privacy policy templates. However (a)–(h) above need to reflect the actuality for each site, so a generic policy is unlikely to be 100% applicable – and the ICO/courts are unlikely to be understanding of any website that couldn’t be bothered to address the obligation seriously. 

Next is the issue of the content appearing on a site. Copyright is another important factor to consider – both protection of original content produced by/for the website owner, and not inadvertently breaching copyright by reproducing somebody else’s work in whole or in part. There is insufficient room in this article to explain what can be a complex legal right, ownership of which often turning on points of fine detail and timing. Suffice to say, web owners need to know the basics of copyright - and the basics of trademark rights. 

If a website has a newsfeed/content aggregator or allows comments then the issues of the website inadvertently displaying defamatory or ‘hate-crime’ posts, comments or articles may be an issue. This topic cannot be unpacked in a 500-word article. 

Finally, remember that use of a website often constitutes a contract. Website owners should protect themselves (e.g. against people suffering loss when they rely on website content) by having terms and conditions. The importance of this was demonstrated recently when a Leeds-based law firm sued Glassdoor (to discover who had left poor reviews). They failed. One reason was that Glassdoor’s website’s terms of use stipulated that any litigation should take place in California – and the English courts accepted that stipulation.

Sarah Gopaul


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