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When you look at the bottom of websites for major companies, you will often see a link for the terms of use. You might also have been asked to “accept” such terms by clicking okay before installing an app. But if you are like most people… you have never carefully reviewed the terms of use language.

As a business owner, though, there are plenty of reasons why you should consider including the terms of use on your website or with your products. It covers the policies, disclosures, and use limits that govern the use of your site as well as the content and services provided. It can also help protect your business in any disputes that come up.

Contents of a Terms of Use Agreement

The content of a terms of use will depend on:

  • Your business
  • The services you provide 
  • The data you collect and store
  • Any content you provide

For example, a website with product videos that incorporate licensed music will have very different terms of service than a website that collects names, addresses, and Social Security numbers for loan applications.

To limit your liability and protect your content, some clauses your terms of use agreement may need include:

Privacy Policy

If you collect or store personal data through your website, a privacy policy explains:

  • What you collect
  • How you store it
  • How you use it

Unlike the EU’s 2016 General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), The U.S. does not have a single, all-inclusive federal law governing data privacy. Rather, it has a mix of laws at various levels of government that address specific, select issues. Some major markets like California, Virginia, and Colorado, though, will have their own comprehensive state laws governing data privacy. You will need to carefully consider where your customers are located and what laws might apply to you.

A tech or business lawyer can help you develop a privacy policy compliant with the jurisdictions where users will access your website. You can then include the privacy policy on your terms of use page.

Cookie Policy

Cookies are data files stored on a user’s device by a website. Whenever a user accesses the website, the user’s device sends a cookie to the website’s server to identify the user. This is how websites “remember” user preferences, usernames, and other personal information.

A cookie policy explains what you will store on the user’s device through cookies andhow you will use it. It may even explain how the user can decline cookies and browse without having any stored on their device.

Since cookies can contain personal information, they may fall under various state and international data privacy laws. Your company needs to decide if the cookies you collect will be session-limited or persistent, necessary or elective, and first or third party. The cookie policy you include in your terms of use will need to be specific to your needs while complying with laws from around the world.

Use Restrictions

Terms of Use policies also include any restrictions on how users actually use your site or your content. Use restrictions might be helpful if you provide services that you do not want to be accessed by bots. You can also limit how users access and use your content like written text, music, video, and photographs. 

There is, of course, a balance between protecting your content and customer inconvenience. One common defense is to prevent other companies’ AI from “scraping” (i.e. copying) protected content. Thus the infamous CAPTCHA challenges were born. 

For example, your terms of use might restrict users from:

  • Copying
  • Altering
  • Reverse engineering
  • Bypassing security controls

Finally, you can include limits on the purposes of your website. For example, you might allow your software to be used personally for free, but require a payment if it is being used for business purposes. For example, TeamViewer, a software program that allows you to log into your home computer from somewhere else, is free for home use but must be paid for if used professionally to provide IT support. Free For Personal Use – TeamViewer

Editorial Control Over User Content

If you allow users to post content to your website, your terms of use should also explain your policy on removing content that constitutes:

  • Abuse
  • Bullying
  • Intellectual property infringement
  • Disparagement

It may also need to describe your policy for releasing records and user content in response to search warrants and subpoenas.

Payment and Billing Terms

If you charge for services, your Terms of Use should explain the payment and billing terms. Similarly, if you auto-renew users’ subscriptions, you should explain how and when that renewal happens. 

Money-related terms often have the power to set the tone for your client engagements and help clients either build or loose confidence in your company. They’re also a nice shield to hide behind if you have difficulty with confrontation. It’s a lot easier to blame your lawyers and their stickler interest rate clauses than it is to try to enforce something more nebulous. 

Do you need a terms of use agreement?

A terms of use agreement is necessary for most websites, including those for:

  • Businesses
  • Charities
  • Member organizations
  • Government agencies

Even personal websites may need a terms of use agreement in some situations. An artist who has a personal website without a terms of use agreement might risk seeing copies of their artwork all over the web.

To discuss your online presence and whether you need a terms of use agreement, contact Lancaster Tech Law to learn more.