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Terms of Use for a Site

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

It is very important to define terms of use for an internet site or smartphone application. Terms of use define what is permitted and forbidden for those using the site, or limitations on the site owner’s liability towards users. Unfortunately, some site owners avoid including terms of use on their sites. Others use a template downloaded from the internet or copied from somewhere else, rather than write a custom set of terms specific to their site. In this article an attorney from our office who specializes in internet law and privacy protection explains the risks involved in such moves and how terms of use should be defined.

Our offices, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specialize in internet law and privacy protection law. The office specializes in providing advice and legal counsel for owners of companies and businesses in a variety of fields, including managing internet sites and applications. The office has extensive experience in defining terms of use, charters and privacy protection policy on internet sites in order to comply with the law.

Terms of use for a site

What are terms of use for a site?

We live in an era when enormous quantities of data are digitally available across the internet. It sometimes seems that one cannot control what visitors will choose to do with the content published on a site. Yet, in practice this is not true. Internet sites and applications meet the definition of intellectual property, and creative works are published on them (such as the written content on a site, pictures, film clips, etc.). Accordingly, they are protected under various laws governing creators’ rights and intellectual property, and site or application owners have the authority to define what can be done with the content.

At the same time, the law subjects site and application owners to various obligations. For example, there are obligations to register and manage data bases on internet sites and applications, under the Privacy Protection Law. There is also an obligation to make internet sites accessible to people with special needs. Integrating the need to define conditions for visitors to a site or application, alongside legal conditions that site and application owners must meet, created the custom of defining charters for internet sites which include terms of use, privacy protection policy, etc.

Terms of use/charters are in fact contracts between the owner of the internet site or application’s content and the visitors to that site or application, whoever they are. The terms of use help owners prevent misunderstandings by users and can serve as the basis for taking legal actions against visitors or competitors who violate those terms of use. Therefore, proper definition of terms of use for a site constitutes the best way to prevent legal problems in this context.

When do terms of use need to be defined for a site?

It is important to emphasize that the law does not require writing of a charter/terms of use for a site. This is apparently the reason why many believe that terms of use for a site are not mandatory, or not particularly important. But this is a common error. They are in fact immensely important, and therefore it is rare to find sites or applications which do not have terms of use and privacy policy defined.

However, it often happens that site or application owners define terms that are not appropriate for the site or application they own. Such an action not only hampers the owner’s ability to prevent legal problems, but may even itself become the cause of such problems. These could include claims of copyright infringement, claims of liability for damage caused by use of the site, etc. Therefore it is essential to define terms of use specifically for each site.

What should be included in a charter for a site you own?

There are many issues that can be covered in a charter and terms of use for a site. The terms of use generally relate to a policy for using pictures and other content on the site, as well as a privacy protection policy for site visitors and instructions on accessibility. It is customary to include conditions that limit liability for content of the site, or products sold on it. For example, if it is a site with educational content, it is customary to clarify that the contents of the site do not constitute a substitute for professional consultation. If it is an internet store, it is customary to set a policy for returning damaged merchandise, and so forth.

Note that this is an open list, which does not exhaust the possible relevant issues for terms of use of your site. Every site or application has its own unique characteristics, and requires terms of use that address specific issues. There is in fact no one conditions document that will suit all sites, given that it depends on the site’s content and its specific requirements.

Is it a good idea to prepare a charter/terms of use oneself?

In another article we published an explanation of why it is not a good idea to download a rental contract from the internet. Terms of use, as we noted, are also a kind of contract, and they have complexities that you would be unlikely to find in a rental contract. Therefore, our recommendation here too is not to copy the available terms of use from other internet sites, or use existing templates as they are. Beyond the fact that this might constitute a copyright violation in certain cases, it is hard to imagine that the terms you copied will suit the requirements of your site exactly. In fact, doing so may put you at serious risk.

Likewise, it is not recommended to write terms of use yourself, without having the necessary legal knowledge. At the very least, if you have already written terms of use yourself, it is recommended to consult with an attorney who specializes in the field, and who can help you be sure that the terms of use meet the various legal requirements, as well as your personal needs.

Contact an attorney specializing in internet law and privacy protection

If you have questions regarding defining terms of use for an internet site or application, you can contact us at the telephone numbers or email address below. An attorney from our office will be glad to help. Our office specializes in internet law and privacy protection, and assists individuals, companies, and business owners with legal counsel and guidance for proper management of their digital property.

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