"Terms of Use" Page Can Protect Your Web Site Content

We continue to be surprised by the number of lawyers who don't take the simplest of steps to protect the content of their web sites from being plagiarized and outright stolen. And it is so easy to protect yourself.

If you spend dozens (or hundreds) of hours and thousands of dollars creating content for your web site, why not take a few minutes and protect it? Gordon & Doner learned the value of a little self-protection when they found an impersonator had copies their entire website and claimed it as their own, which can lead to your clients going elsewhere for legal help without them or you even knowing it.

Just adding a small "copyright by [insert your name here]" won't do you much good. You need a "Terms of Use" page on your website, with clear links to it from every page on your site.

Consider this page a sort of contract between you and your website visitor which states what the visitor can and can not do if they are going to use your website. While some writers fill them up with legalese, others take the plain and straight forward approach. Do what works for you, but do it.

The terms restrict how the website visitor can use your website in every sense, but perhaps its greatest value is now rooted in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a federal law that lets you use your terms of use to act offensively by either prosecuting individuals for wrongdoing that comes from a violation of the terms or to seek civil penalties or remedies for legal injuries from what actually amounts to a breach of contract.

But don't use just any old boilerplate language. You can find lots of examples online (Google lists 192 million returns for "terms of use sample"), but then write your own terms of use contract to fit your particular site and the risks or uses that are relevant to it.

To be enforceable, the terms of use must be easily seen and understood. That means conspicuous and clearly written to state conduct that is and is not authorized. While you may not legally be required to put a link on all your website pages, at least one court has said that the terms of use are adequately communicated to your website visitor if the terms can be accessed from all the pages. Not sure? Then put a link everywhere.

Oh, and if you suspect someone has copied your content or used your site data or content in violation of your terms of use contract, then act on it. Like any other contract, if you are lazy about enforcement in the face of a knowing violation, it can amount to a waiver.

The Terms of Use page on your web site can protect your site content from being stolen. But it's up to you to make sure of it everyday. How? You can, of course, always run a search using a few specific phrases that come from your site content and then carefully look at the pages that show up.

If you've never done it, you'll very likely be surprised at how much of your content has already been "adapted" to someone else's web site use. If you can prove it's your's then ask them to take down the plagiarized content. If they dispute that they got it from you, your techie can probably do some forensic work on the web site host computer and tell you if they visited your site. It could well be worth it.

Ron Burdge
Helping lawyers improve their business since 1978.
To read the Burdge Law Office sites' Terms of Use page, click here.