We all know that the Web is becoming a functional medium to start a business or to expand an existing one. The Internet surpasses space, creating a universe where you could easily maintain communication with your clients and conduct business as you wish without the hassles of face-to-face interaction. The Internet spells all things CONVENIENT for your business.
However, you need to be aware of the law for websites when you are starting an online business.
Governing Law For Websites
FIRST. A business conducted online is regulated in the same manner as a traditional bricks and mortar business. Governments impose just as many laws for online businesses as offline businesses. Basic information about your business should be publicly displayed. For example, information such as trade name, proprietor’s name, business address, tax identification numbers, license or franchise numbers are required to be shown conspicuously in a store’s premises. With an online business, this information must also be shown in the website, usually in every page of the site or where it would be easily seen by users or clients. If the business consists of selling products, terms and conditions of purchase must be disclosed to the buyer before proceeding with a sale. Same thing with selling products online, terms and conditions for returns, delivery or warranties must be clear as to be understood and displayed conspicuously as to be noticed and read by the consumer. On the other hand, if you are engaged in advertising products only, same regulations apply regarding claims. Claims need to be substantiated. The ad must specify a certain level of support for a claim. Be it consumer feedbacks, expert ratings or customer ratings.
In other words, almost the same statutory regulations apply whether the business is online or offline. Of course this connotes that same liabilities will also apply to business conducted online. You could still be liable for fraudulent claims, deceptive advertising or breach of warranties, same as if the advertising or purchase was done offline. Knowing these will save you a lot of trouble with the law.
Knowing who your customers are
SECOND. The second thing you have to think of is where you are in the online business world. Are you engaged in local business? Do you limit yourself to dealing with a group of resident clients of a particular locality? Or does your business or ads cater to international consumers? Knowing this will help you determine which statutory regulations will govern the conduct of your business. We earlier said that laws and regulations apply similarly whether the business is through the Internet or not. If the business is limited to domestic transactions, there will be no problem as the governing law will be the law of the country to which the business is organized and registered. The problem arises when the business caters to just ANYONE. If you are for example operating a website selling handheld devices online and ships them for a fee, a misdelivery on your part could open you to a law suit. Worse, there is no way for you to know that perhaps in country X (where the costumer resides) subjects you to a pay double for misdelivered cargo.
There are just TOO MANY ONLINE LAWS and TOO MANY GOVERNMENTS which can affect how you operate your business, you won’t know which to follow or to which you are answerable.
Limit Liability: Opt for laws to govern your website
Terms and Conditions exist to solve this for us. If you are operating a buying and selling website, you can take advantage of using the site’s terms and conditions to limit your responsibility for a sale transaction. You can provide for a clause stating that for any legal purpose, only the laws of Australia shall govern. And any disagreement which will arise from the use of the site will be resolved based on Australian commercial laws. Opt for a forum which you are familiar with or easily, the laws of your country. This will ensure that you only have to strictly observe the state law/s indicated even if the customer is a foreigner. Of course, the terms will have to be accepted by the client if he or she decides to go on with the sale.
It will never be a waste of time to consult a professional in dealing with the law for websites. Before you go publishing your site and advertising products online, be sure to inform yourself of these informations. As for the general business law, there would not be much of a problem as offline and online businesses are practically the same. However, specific statutory regulations vary from state to state and from business to business. If you are not quite sure how to go about protecting your business, it is wise to have someone experienced in website law to draft your site’s Terms and Conditions. This would ensure that the Terms will be a perfect match for the type of business you are engaged in and the customers you are dealing with. It will save you from the spending more on fines and costs later on.