Is Your Website Design Illegal?

No matter how long your site has been up and running – a week, a year, a decade – it is time to perform a legal audit.  Failing to stay on top of and abide by legal rules can be mean a death sentence for your website.

It’s almost impossible to run a business in today’s world without some sort of web presence, and now many businesses exist solely on the web. Some sites are purely for entertainment purposes while others provide a plethora of useful information.  Not matter what the purpose of a website, there are certain legal issues to take into consideration.  No one can simply throw a website onto the internet and call it a day.

Exact legal standards for website design aren’t easy to define because the laws are constantly changing and evolving.  However, there are some pretty firm laws that should be obvious.  The more you know, the less likely you are to get into trouble.

Let’s start by discussing website design’s most talked about rule.

Copyright Infringement

This topic comes up quite often in regard to images.  Remember, the five rights granted to a copyright holder by the U.S. Copyright Act:

  • The right to reproduce the copyrighted work
  • The right to prepare derivative works based upon the work
  • The right to distribute copies of the work to the public
  • The right to perform the copyrighted work publicly
  • The right to display the copyrighted work publicly

Copyrights are attached automatically to all original, creative work in a tangible or digital form.  If you do not hold the right to a work and you use it anyways, you are engaging in copyright infringement.

Therefore, simply right clicking on an image and hitting “save as,” isn’t a good idea.  Hopefully, you know that by know.  You probably also know about Creative Commons licenses.  If you don’t, now would be a good time to do a bit of research.

Once website designers have determined all of their images are safe to use, they might think their site is in tip-top shape.  However, there are tons of other legal issues to consider when it comes to website design.

Other Legal Issues to Consider

Trademark infringement deals with a word, image, slogan or other device designed to identify the goods and services of a particular person or organization.  A site could encounter trademark issues if it copies another site’s design or copy, whether by means of confusion, mistake or deception.

Likewise, trade dress infringement addresses the design of a product’s packaging or presentation.  It is unlawful to copy another person or entity’s trade dress.

Invasion of privacy happens when there is a public disclosure of private facts, statements that place a person in a false and defamatory light, and the commercial use of another’s image or likeness without their permission.

Defamation refers to publishing false information that injures the reputation of a person or business.  Defamation doesn’t have to be direct; it can result from an inference, insinuation, innuendo, or joke.  Pay special attention to this topic if your site has a public bulletin board, forum, community, or other method of visitor interaction.

Legal issues surround a websites linking strategies too.  Deep-linking (bypassing the site’s homepage) and framing (incorporating trademarks or HTML code) are big legal no-nos too.

Dishonest advertisers can lead an unsuspecting website owner astray.  Displaying advertisements that are false or misleading can have serious legal repercussions for a site owner.

Many website designers and operators are ignorant of their potential legal troubles.  And in most cases, the harm wasn’t caused intentionally.  Make sure you pay special attention to what gets posted on your website.  Check out this article for more specific information and perform a legal audit as soon as possible.  If you are concerned that you may be violating any of these laws, make sure you remove any damaging content immediately.

This is a guest post by Jessica Velasco, who works for a Clearwater lawyer found here.  As the internet’s popularity continues to grow and expand, Jessica knows the legal precedence for website owners will evolve too.