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The Lawsuit Risks of Having a Website
We all know that with any business venture there is risk involved – sometimes minor, often substantial. Being sued is a big risk, especially as your company grows and your network of clientele and other businesses expands.
Especially if you have a website.
Yes, you read that right. In this lawsuit-happy world of ours, all it takes is having a website, or allowing employees to use the internet at work, to drag you and your business into the courtroom. Everything from whines about content to product trademark and patent issues – all at the click of a mouse. Don’t get me wrong, having a website is synonymous with being successful with your business. It’s practically necessary. But you should be aware of the risk it involves.
Here are some examples of what can get you and your business into trouble when it comes to the internet:
• Offering generic, less-expensive versions of brand-name products, such as Oakley sunglasses, can get your sued by your name brand competitors.
• Blogs posted by your employees can be a HUGE risk! Even if its not on your company’s website. Negative comments about co-workers and supervisors, information about business practices, derogatory statements about competitors – all of these and more can get your sued if the wrong person sees them.
• Comments posted by third parties in response to your blog or as feedback on your site (MySpace has already been sued over the content of some of its members).
• Posting photographs on your site that were taken by other people, even if they are an employee, or that are from another website without the permission of the original photographer (copyright infringement).
• If the name of your business or your web address is the same as someone else’s and they want to use your URL (Keith Urban, the country star, sued a visual artist, also named Keith Urban and famous first, because he wanted his website name of keithurban.com).
• Posting a review of a product from a company who prohibits product reviews in the fine print (ever notice that you can’t always find what you’re looking for on sites like epinions.com – that’s why).
• Blocking pop-up ads.
• Failing to store customer information on the website in encrypted form.
• Sending e-mails to customers who don’t want them (like telemarketers).
• Comparing your product to a competitors (European government agencies prohibit it – and since people in Europe can access your website…).
• Being sued for not complying with state laws and internet regulations when selling to a customer there, even if that’s not where you business is based.
• Employees who use their work internet access to view porn and get fired for it can come back with a lawsuit because “the company didn’t offer treatment for an addiction.”
• Employees have also been known to sue employers for enabling their addiction to the internet itself by allowing access at work.
Overwhelmed yet? Well, unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In a world where everyone wants anyone to blame but themselves, we have grown lawsuit happy and the internet has opened many doors.
My advice to you is to find an attorney to look over your website or website plan. An attorney who specializes in internet law is best, but hard to come by because internet law is so complicated and constantly changing. Most corporation/business attorneys can keep you on the safe track when it comes to your content and policies.
Also, put a “terms of service” clause on your site that specifies the court juristiction that any suits against your company would have to be filed in. That way, if your business is in New York, and you specify that all suits must be filed in a New York court, you won’t find yourself traveling to California for hearings, attorney meetings, etc.
Most importantly, remain cautious. If you have second thoughts about something on your website, double-check with an attorney before adding it. You may just save yourself from a lawsuit in the end.
• Inc.com: What’s Next – Web of Lawyers
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Is Your Business Online Yet?
Avoiding the Courtroom: Tips for Deterring Litigation
Shared WiFi on the Way
Avoid Getting Gypped by Fraudulent Web Designers