Legal Requirements for Websites and Online Businesses

Starting a business these days doesn’t necessarily mean renting a property, purchasing stock or setting up a shop front. In fact, more and more entrepreneurs are setting up and running very successful businesses from the comfort of their own homes.  E-commerce is a hallmark of the modern age, and with the rising demand for online shopping, it’s becoming clear that this type of business is the way of the future.  If you want to be where the action is, it might be wise to consider this business model but be sure to know the legal requirements and website laws in place for your country.

Do I need a Registered Business Number?

Just because your online business doesn’t require a building permit or land zoning, doesn’t mean that it is regulation free.  It is important to take time to familiarize yourself with the legal requirements of your website and make sure you comply with the regulations surrounding that business type.

In Australia for example, one of the most common questions asked by the owners of small or medium sized businesses is ‘does my business website need an ABN (Australian Business Number)?’

While it may not actually be a necessity, strictly speaking, it is certainly advisable for an online business to have an ABN.  Indeed, if you wish to register your own domain space, it is essential.  Websites which finish with ‘.com.au’ or ‘.net.au’ are required by law to have an ABN.

Other benefits of a Business Number include:

  • Exclusive access to your domain name, for the length of your business licence. Because your domain space is registered, you have exclusive access to that name, which will become invaluable as your business grows and becomes known among the online community.
  • Certain benefits relating to PAYG tax and the ability to register for GST.
  • Generally simpler and more straightforward dealings with the ATO and other businesses.

Do I really need a Terms and Conditions page?

We tend to think of the Terms and Conditions page as that boring stuff at the end of a website, and 9 times out of 10 you probably don’t even read it!  Boring as it may be, when it comes to your own business website, it’s a smart thing to include.

Terms and Condition most likely isn’t a lawful requirement, but it is another way of limiting your liability and protecting your rights with regard to your website content.  Think of it as the framework that is going to hold up your case if you are taken to court because it sets out the terms of the contract between you and your customer.

What is a Privacy Policy and do I need one?

In 2017, online businesses are popping up all over the world.  And they trade in a new and all important currency: data.  Collecting and analysing data is critical for online marketing success, however, it is also one of the most legally protected aspects of your business.  Because the data you collect from your customers or viewers is personal, you must handle and use it responsibly and a privacy policy is the best way to convey your commitment to this.

A privacy policy clearly sets out:
  • What information you are collecting from your website visitors
  • Who is collecting the information (i.e. your business name and contact details)
  • How you will protect and store their information
  • How you intend to use their information
  • Who has access to the information and how long it is stored for
  • Whether it is optional to provide information

Of course, there may be more you need to include in your privacy policy, depending on the amount and type of information you are wanting to collect – seek legal help if you have questions regarding the content and wording of your policy.

It is important that you post your privacy policy on your website where it can be clearly seen.  Remember, as the business owner, you are responsible to uphold and maintain strict control over the collection and use of personal data, so communicate your commitment to any team members.  Integrity is a vital part of business success – it pays to do what you say!

Is a Website Disclaimer necessary?

Your website contains information, and yes, you try to keep it as up-to-date as possible, but how can you guarantee that it is 100% accurate all the time, or be responsible if somebody misinterprets information?  Especially if your site contains links to outside sources over which you have zero control…

This is where a Website Disclaimer becomes essential.  Regardless of the size of your business, you do not have total control over who views your website or how these viewers will interpret or rely on the information given on your site.  It is, therefore, necessary to limit liability where possible and state your commitment to providing accurate information, to the best of your ability and knowledge.

So, where to start?

There is plenty of information online and various sites that will help you in putting together the legal side of your website.  If you don’t feel comfortable doing it yourself, there is also plenty of professional help available to assist you too.   It may be advisable to enlist the skill of an attorney or legal professional especially if transactions are going to be processed via your site.  The last thing you want is a disgruntled customer taking legal action against you, so you need to be sure you are covered against this from every possible angle.

Your business website is a long-term investment and it’s worth doing it properly the first time.  Taking time to cover these legal aspects of your business could be the difference between success and failure, so the time you spend in this area is never wasted!

Louise Procter is a Marketing Assistant and Content Developer for TheOnlineCo. She is also their resident “Mrs. Have a chat.” Louise enjoys building connections with people and combining her love of writing with her love of meeting new people.

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