Website terms & conditions are without a doubt the most boring page on a website. We are often asked; “Does anyone ever read them?” “What is the point?” “Why must they be so complicated?”
Technically speaking, there is no legal requirement to have contractual terms and conditions on a website. However, there are certain pieces of law that require businesses to display certain information, so it makes sense to have them. We strongly encourage business owners to do the smart thing now, to save a world of pain later (if anything ever goes wrong).
What are website terms & conditions?
Terms & Conditions act as a legally binding contract between you and your website users.
They set-out your processes, procedures and govern what your rights and responsibilities are as a business, and what your customer’s rights and responsibilities are. They also potentially cover off risk – and deal with certain pieces of law that must be covered when operating an electronic platform.
What is the point?
Terms & conditions can limit your liability should you ever be facing a legal battle. Be warned however – your terms could form the basis of a legal dispute (and worst case, court action) – so make sure they are done right!
In addition, terms & conditions protect your intellectual property, and therefore all the content contained on your website.
Essentially, your website terms should provide consumers with all the necessary information regarding your product or service, with a clear indication as to what happens if something goes wrong.
What should be included?
The specific content included in website terms & conditions will be unique to each business, so one size does not fit all. That being said, here are some of the standard, basic elements that must be included or addressed:
where your website is operating from in terms of governing law. i.e. “This Agreement shall be governed by and interpreted according to the laws of the Republic of South Africa”;
guarantees and warranties;
if applicable, issues relating to the Consumer Protection Act;
copyright and all intellectual property.
data protection issues – how does your business deal with privacy?;
a disclaimer removing your liability from errors in your web content;
limitation of liability and indemnity;
general legal terms.
E-commerce websites require more onerous and detailed information, such as (but not limited to):
pricing, payment and delivery information;
conclusion of a sale or basis of a service agreement;
detailed information relating to returning a product. You must ensure that your returns policy is compliant with the Consumer Protection Act;
in accordance with the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act, you are required to provide information about the full name and legal status of your website, as well as an email address and telephone number for your business.
In conclusion, having website terms & conditions protects you as a business, and they play an important role in ensuring that both parties understand their rights, roles and responsibilities. Plus, you get the added benefit of looking more professional and consumers will likely be more confident when dealing with you. They needn’t be long, but they should be clear, prominent and easy to understand.
Finally, as tempting as it may be, avoid copying from another site – not only because this is copyright infringement and plagiarism, but also because every business is unique, and you may not be able to rely on incorrectly drafted terms to protect your business. Often, it is much harder to rectify a legal issue after-the-fact…
Contact us if you would like assistance with legally sound website terms and conditions - firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Co-Pilot Director, Lindy-Leigh Swales