Why is a Terms and Conditions Page Important?

pen with I agree to the terms and conditions and a checkbox

When people think of terms and conditions on a website, they often picture pages of legal jargon that is almost impossible to understand. They also usually assume that the only sites which need legal disclaimers like this are those handled by large companies, or people selling a product to a large number of users. Although they aren’t required by law, it’s wise to include a terms and conditions document on most websites. These documents are not too difficult to create, since there are many websites which offer templates to help people get started. When built properly, they can protect people who own websites.

Clear terms and conditions ensure that the person who first created a website retains ownership of its content. It’s common for people to copy and paste images, text, or other data from websites they visit, and you should expect that someone will try to do those things with your content. Having a terms and conditions page makes it clear that this behavior is not acceptable, and prevents others from claiming a website’s content as their own work. This isn’t the same as applying for a formal copyright, but it does let users know that your website’s content is protected by copyright law. You should have a copyright notice in your terms and conditions.

A terms and conditions document also protects you from undue liability concerning your content. If there are errors in your content, as long as they are not considered fraud or breaking any laws, a terms and conditions pages prevents you from being legally responsible for those errors. Since the vast majority of websites link to other places on the web, the document can also inform users that you are not responsible for anything outside of your site. That includes the content of links from your site to others, or information placed on your site by third-party providers.

Since users expect to consume a certain type of content from your website, and also expect that the website is available to them when they want it, a good terms and conditions page should also include any limitations on the website’s availability, as well as any restrictions that are placed on the user. For example, if a website is only available on Saturdays, and users aren’t allowed to copy any information from the website, those specifications should be included in the terms and conditions. Remember that availability is different from uptime. It’s not possible to guarantee that servers will always work, but it is possible to promise that everyone who has a right to view your website will continue to have that right.

It’s a smart idea to have a privacy policy for your website as well, and in most cases, a privacy policy is required by law. A link to your website’s privacy policy should also be in your terms and conditions. Depending on the amount of text, some sites roll the privacy policy into the terms and conditions section, but it’s generally good practice to keep the documents separate for easy reading and maintenance. Technically, they are two different things, and putting them together could make them legally ambiguous in some cases.

All of this terms and conditions content is the absolute minimum that a website needs. This means that any site — whether it’s a casual blog, a photo album, or for a school project — should have these pieces. Terms and conditions documents become more complicated if a site is selling products, registering users, or collecting data. This is why they seem so long and unwieldy, because even a simple terms and conditions document requires a lot of information.

It’s best not to be intimidated by a terms and conditions document, though. The simpler a website is, the simpler the document usually is as well. The best ways to create a terms and conditions document are to use a template generator or to draft one with a lawyer. NEVER copy and paste someone else’s terms and conditions, because that could be considered copyright infringement, fraud, or some other crime. Create a terms and conditions document responsibly, and you will be protected from legal troubles.

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