5 Internet Laws Your Small Business Might Be Breaking

Here’s a crash course lesson on the four most basic Internet laws you need to know to keep your company out of searingly hot water.


[pullquote]Did you know? “In 2011, Silicon Valley startups spent around $80,000 on legal costs alone?” (Source: VentureBeat)[/pullquote]Although the Internet is technically a free and open space where everyone can share ideas with one another, the potential danger lies in its collaborative nature.

Because most people publicly share their ideas, writing, and images online, it’s becoming much easier to take someone else’s content without proper citation, but also much harder to protect your own digital property. In fact, did you know that in 2011, Silicon Valley startups spent around $80,000 on legal costs alone? (Source: VentureBeat) That’s a pretty steep price to pay, especially if you’re a new company.

If you’re a startup, new to the industry and you’re about to launch your website, it is particularly important to know your online legal rights. Before launching your company website, there are a few legal issues you must take care of before you start building an online brand identity.

Understanding your digital rights for your company’s website (and online brand in general) will save you the potential hassle and fines you might incur in the future. Here’s a crash course lesson on the four most basic Internet laws you need to know to keep your company out of searingly hot water.

 

  1. Register your intellectual property.

    While it is not legally required for you to register intellectual property — you definitely should. Before you purchase a domain name and go live with your logo, visual art, etc. make sure all of your ideas and marketing materials are copyrighted (or trademarked, when applicable) under the company name. This will protect your creative endeavors and give you the right to sue if anyone steals your information or ideas.

  2. Respect other copyrights.

    According to the SBA online business law practices, “Digital works, including text, movies, music and art are copyrighted and protected via the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA offers a number of protections for information published to the Internet, as well as other forms of electronic information.” Just as your company website is copyrighted, other companies’ websites will be copyrighted as well. If you share another company’s original works make sure you have obtained permission to do so, correctly source the work, and are in compliance with their copyright terms. Trust me – the last thing your new startup wants (or needs) is a DMCA takedown or copyright infringement lawsuit, along with the bad press that will surely follow.

  3. Ensure you have marketing consent.

    Now that you’ve got your new, legally protected website, your next step is to create a buzz about your brand, and what better place to market than online? However, just as you must protect your intellectual property, you must also make sure that you cover all your bases when advertising your brand and products. Advertising law is surprisingly complex and nuanced. For example, ads on your website or your company’s social media profile do not require legal permission. However, if you plan on contacting individual customers directly through email or phone calls, they must have given their information to your company willingly. For example, if you are running a sweepstakes in which people must enter their name and contact information, you must clarify what the terms and conditions are for collecting their information. By spelling out your legal rights and theirs, you ensure that you don’t run across any legal problems.

  4. Include a privacy statement on your website.

    Include a privacy policy statement directly on your website that explains who you are, what you do, and what you plan on doing with the information you are collecting from consumers. Be as honest and straightforward as possible in order to avoid any confusion or future legal issues. For example, if you are selling services and do not plan on using costumer information for anything other than contacting them, clarify this in your privacy statement. Typically, the link to your privacy statement page is at the bottom of your website, but do make sure that it is easily accessible on every page of your website.

  5. Use customer information honestly and responsibly.

    As customers start to interact with your company website, you may find yourself sitting on a hefty database of email addresses and phone numbers. Realize that you only have the right to contact these people with the information you specified in your privacy statement. If you sell these emails or otherwise use them to advertise other goods and services, you may find yourself in legal trouble. Be sure to note that in addition to obtaining their information, you must also offer your customers an opt-out option in all email communications. This will give them the opportunity to remove themselves and their contact information from your database.

If any of these web regulations are confusing or unclear to you, it may be in your company’s best interest to hire an Internet lawyer to help you navigate small business legal best practices.

 

Samantha Pena is a business blogger writing on behalf of Hudson Horizons, whose main focus and passion is creating amazing content that is accurate, up-to-date, and (most importantly) interesting. Her main obsessions are social media, trending topics, and anything web-related. You can check out her latest posts on her Google+ page. Connect with @hudsonhorizons on Twitter.


 

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