UK: Keeping Your Website Legal

Last Updated: 25 July 2005
Article by John Simmons

Originally published 27 June 2005

If you are based in the UK and run a business website to sell or promote your products or services, then you need to make sure that you are meeting your legal obligations.

It must be remembered that as long as your business is physically based in the UK, then UK laws will generally apply, even though your website might be hosted outside the UK. Clearly you may need to comply with the laws of other countries as well, if you target people in those countries.

There are a number of UK issues to be considered on an ongoing basis:

Conditions which regulate a visitor's use of your website

You should ensure that visitors are clearly shown where to find any important information about the use of the website. For example:

  • You may want them to confirm their agreement to your terms and conditions before they can proceed further
  • It might be appropriate to include a disclaimer about any general advice on the website
  • You may want to set out the terms on which parts of the website may be copied or links to the website may be established.

The E-commerce and Distance Selling Regulations

These may apply even if you are only using your website to promote your business and not to actually sell products or services on line. You need to check these Regulations to ensure that you are displaying the required information about your business on the site. You need to show for example:

  • the full name of your business
  • business contact details including an e-mail address
  • an address for your business that shows your actual geographic location
  • details of any trade registration
  • if you are in a regulated profession, details of the professional body that you are registered with, your professional title, the EU member state that you are registered in and the rules that apply to you, or a link to these items
  • your VAT registration number if you are showing prices on your site
  • tax and delivery costs must be shown if you mention prices on your site

There are further requirements if you are actually selling on line, both under the E-commerce Directive and the Distance Selling Regulations.

Advertising and defamation

In the UK internet sites should comply with the codes laid down by the Advertising Standards Authority. If you are describing your goods or services, then your descriptions should be accurate and not misleading. You need to ensure your site does not contain any defamatory statements.

Intellectual Property Rights

You will automatically have rights regarding the information that you publish on your site through copyright laws. You need to check that you are not infringing a third party's rights, e.g. to ensure that you have permission to use other people's text or pictures. If you engage others to provide material for your site, you need to check that the copyright in their work is assigned to you and cannot be used elsewhere.

Data Protection Regulations

These will apply if you are collecting information from your visitors through on line forms or by e-mail. In particular, you would have to:

  • inform people what personal data you are collecting and for what purposes
  • check that you only use the data for those purposes, e.g. if you have an e-mail alerter subscription form, you should not use the data for some form of marketing campaign, unless consent to that option has also been obtained
  • ensure that the information you keep is accurate, up to date and not kept longer than necessary
  • ensure that the data is not passed outside your business without the individual's consent, e.g. you should not send out a group e-mail that enables each recipient to see the e-mail addresses of the other recipients

If anyone asks for a copy of the data that you hold on them you are generally obliged to provide it.

You may need to register with the Information Commissioner, which costs £35.00 per annum. You will certainly need to register if you are collecting so-called sensitive personal data or if you will be selling data on to other businesses.

Access for users with disabilities

It is now important to ensure that reasonable adjustments have been made to your site so that the services are accessible to people with disabilities. It should be easier to plan for this if you are establishing a new website.

Cookies

The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations mean that if you are using cookies to track the behaviour of your visitors, you need to advise them on the site, explain the reasons for using them and tell them how to switch the cookies off.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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