Friday, 17 January 2020

What Website Owners Should Know About Terms and Conditions

All website owners should consider terms and conditions (T&Cs) to be a form of legal protection as they establish the responsibility and rights of the involved parties. T&Cs provide full security should anything go amiss and they also help you settle any disputes quickly without having to resort to the courts.

Is it a legal requirement to include T&Cs?
No, but it’s always best to include terms and conditions on your website as they will enable you to reduce your potential liabilities. It is essential that you let your customers or visitors know about their rights; if you’re not clear about your policies, they may dispute matters such as cancellation options, item returns and other rights, putting your company at a disadvantage. Additionally, if areas are unclear in your terms and conditions or even not mentioned, it may mean that you are liable to give your customer additional rights than are given under statutory.
Do you have to include GDPR provisions?
Website owners, even those outside the European Union (EU), should also consider incorporating the General Data Protection Regulation. Inserting a data protection clause can reassure your customers that their data will not be used for inappropriate purposes. You can include the majority of the GDPR obligations in your site’s privacy policy.

What should you include in the T&Cs?
If you are an online seller, it is essential to explain to customers the various processes involved, such as:
  • How to make a purchase
  • How to make a payment
  • How they will receive their products
  • How they can cancel orders
T&Cs help you establish boundaries by outlining what specific rights customers have. In return, you also inform them about your obligations as a seller and the limits of your legal liability.

What kind of protection can you expect from the T&Cs? It may not be uncommon for disputes to arise between you and your online customers or visitors. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that the terms and conditions are accessible, preferably on your website.

You also need to protect your website from copyright infringements. You can avoid potential disputes and confusion by specifying which sections are copyrighted and which are your intellectual property. You should also stipulate what visitors can do with your data. If there is any breach of your copyright or intellectual property, the terms and conditions should clearly explain how the problem will be resolved.

Are there standard T&Cs which apply to all websites?
There are general formats or templates of T&Cs that you can obtain for free online. However, there is always the possibility that these documents will not cover specific aspects of your business or will not include the relevant terms. If you omit an essential term from your website, you may find yourself vulnerable if a dispute arises. Therefore, it is critical that you customise your terms and conditions so they are suitable for your website and business.
  • Product and service offerings – No two businesses are alike, even if you sell the same products and services. For example, your competitor may only accept PayPal but you may allow other modes of payment.
  • Industry or target audience – In every industry, there are specific provisions that need to be included in the T&Cs. For example, customers may have a legal right to cancel or return their purchases within a specified period.
Can website owners enforce their T&Cs?
Your T&Cs are like any other enforceable contract. Nevertheless, you must ensure that they don’t contravene existing consumer laws or government regulations. Remember, you should only incorporate clauses that you can legally apply.

Conclusion
Terms and conditions are necessary for all businesses, including e-commerce sites. It is essential that you create T&Cs that are suitable for your products and services, and that they are legally enforceable. You also need to periodically review your T&Cs, especially if there have been any significant changes to your business structure or the law. Moreover, they must be accessible to your online customers and visitors. If they are not aware of your T&Cs, you may find it difficult to enforce them if a problem arises.

Written by Kerry Gibbs, a legal expert at BEB Contract and Legal Services.

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