Notes on legal issues relating to websites
This paper has been written following attendance at a seminar on the legal aspects of web design given by the international law firm Masons and held on Thursday 9th October 2003.
1. Notices and Disclaimers
All notices and policies must be drawn to users' attention in order for the users to be bound by their terms. This is relevant in cases where users input information which may be (and is likely to be) personal information. In addition you need to ensure that a user ticks a box to say they have read the terms - you cannot rely on there being a link somewhere else on the page.
Website disclaimers attempt to exclude or minimise liability. They must be clear. If at any time, the disclaimer is challenged in the courts, then it is likely to be thrown out in its entirety and UCL would be left with unlimited liability.
Copyright notices should indicate who owns the copyright, how the material can be used and such a notice must be incorporated appropriately. Downloading a web page actually implies making a copy of the material so it is reasonable to state this and make explicit what is allowed.
The contents of these pages are copyright © UCL 1999-2003. You may download to a local hard disk and print extracts from this web site for your personal use. You may also recopy downloaded extracts to others provided you do not do so for profit.
However, reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited unless for personal use. None of the content of this web site may be copied or otherwise incorporated into or stored in any other web site, electronic retrieval system, publication or other work in any form (whether hard copy, electronic or other). For the avoidance of doubt, framing of this site or any part of it is not permitted without express permission.
Notwithstanding the above, caching of this site is permitted by an information service provider acting in the normal course of its business as provided for in the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002.
2. Framing and linking
Disclaimers can include something like the following:
For the avoidance of doubt, framing of this site or any part of it is not permitted without express permission.
Framing may risk confusion as to the source of web pages and may suggest endorsement.
With respect to linking, UCL should disclaim liability for content of websites that are linked to from within UCL's web site.
When UCL links to others' websites, generally linking to the home page is acceptable. Deep linking (linking to within a web site elsewhere) is likely to cause annoyance particularly if this bypasses terms and conditions of the 3rd party's website or bypasses key advertising.
3. Chat rooms and defamation
Any site which allows users to post content risks liability for defamation. Defamation falls into 2 areas - that of slander which is transitory and requires proof of damage, and libel which is permanent and damage is presumed. To be deemed defamatory, the material must be further published to a third party and defame an individual. Websites are likely to create libel issues; chat rooms to create slander issues.
Defence will rely on proving that you are not the publisher, merely a facilitator. For example, a newspaper is a publisher and is liable, whilst a library has the defence that it is only a facilitator. Similarly, a website operator may merely provide the service by which the statement is distributed. Monitoring, say, a bulletin board, may increase level of liability since, in such a case, there may be no defence under Defamation Act 1996 as UCL then acts as an editor and probably no defence under the E-commerce Regulations 2002 as UCL would be seen as aware of the status of the material.
Masons recommends that in order to minimise the risk of liability, website operators should not monitor and, further, they should make this clear in the site's terms and conditions. A notification process should be written in such a way that it is easy for users to notify problems (e.g. an email address available on every page). The site must then ensure that someone receives this notification - this must be checked daily - and action is taken promptly on receipt (promptly is thought to be within 24 hours, although this has not been tested in the courts).
"Users must not publish, post, upload, distribute or disseminate any defamatory, inappropriate, profane, hateful, obscene, indecent or unlawful topic, name, material or information or material that infringes the right of others."
The operator should state that they "reserve the right to use, disclose or remove any information or materials without compensation". Further, these terms must be properly incorporated - e.g. a tick box for users that states "I have read, understood and accept these conditions".