Laying Down the Law: Terms of Use for World Wide Web Sites

Article excerpt

The World Wide Web is the wild frontier of commerce, and the law has not caught up with all the activity on the open range. Web sites offer users tremendous resources: database information, chat rooms, bulletin boards, free software, and entertainment. Universal rules for the use of these resources, however, do not yet exist. Without clear standards of behavior, users could start the chat room equivalent of a saloon fight, or make off like rustlers with a Web site's intellectual property.

More and more Web site publishers are attempting to set their own rules by imposing "terms and conditions" on people visiting their sites. Like a sheriff posting a warning at the edge of town, many Webmasters are putting hypertext READ THIS notices on their home pages. These postings link to terms and conditions that purport to govern users of the Web site. Even without a six-shooter and a tin star, the following tips will provide some ammunition for drafting terms that can keep the peace on a Web site:

Make the terms and conditions conspicuous. Merely giving clear notice of what behavior is expected will bring most users into line. A link to the terms of use, or the terms themselves, should be clearly and prominently labeled on the home page.

Require user agreement before proceeding. Common ways to get a user to agree to the terms of use include a button saying "I Agree" or a dialog box in which the user must type in his or her name. The user should also have the explicit option to reject the terms and leave the Web site, such as a button saying, "I Do Not Agree." At minimum, the home page of the Web site should clearly state that proceeding to use the site constitutes agreement to the terms and conditions conspicuously shown to the user.

Make disclaimers regarding content. When appropriate, the terms of use should include disclaimers regarding the content of the site. If the Web site has an unmonitored bulletin board service available for users, the terms should specifically disclaim any responsibility for or review of user nosines on the bulletin board.

Include a license for content If the Web publisher wants to restrict copying, redistribution, or other use of the content on the Web site, the terms of use should include a license to that content.

Note appropriate guidelines for bulletin boards and chat. …