To assist our clients in being proactive in evaluating their website content (e.g., for potential sources of civil and criminal liability, compliance with applicable federal laws, and inclusion of appropriate legal terms and conditions), McGuireWoods offers customized website auditing services. A team of lawyers with industry-specific web auditing experience review site content to identify specific content problems, suggest the text for and location of disclaimers and other legal notices, and evaluate other potential sources of liability.
In the race to keep up with the developing electronic marketplace, many companies have established websites without much, if any, legal review of site content. Website content can raise myriad legal issues, and yet there is a widespread misconception that federal and state laws and regulations relating to trademarks, copyrights, privacy, sales and other types of commercial activity do not apply to the Internet. In fact, as companies rush to establish a presence on the Web, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other regulatory agencies are fast making electronic commerce a top enforcement priority. Similarly, trademark and copyright owners are policing the Web for unauthorized uses of their intellectual property, as users who were once geographically remote are now side-by-side online.
Common mistakes by web operators include offering goods for sale without regard to FTC regulations, downloading, copying and displaying artwork on web pages without first obtaining an assignment of the copyright or a license to use such work, and offering links to other sites without clear disclaimers of the content of such sites. Privacy policies are often drafted by web designers who simply copy language from well-known sites — a practice that both violates copyright law and typically fails to reflect accurately what, if any, privacy-related procedures are actually in place. Sweepstakes and other contests are promoted on the web without regard to various state laws requiring contest registration if residents of that state may participate. Companies include information for current and prospective employees without regard to federal labor laws. The list of issues is endless, and in many cases, criminal liability (including jail time for responsible corporate officers), as well as civil liability, is at stake.
In addition to issues relating to website content, operation of an interactive website can subject a company to the jurisdiction of courts that are geographically remote from the company. Many companies are unaware that their Internet business practices (and, in some cases, ineffective legal “terms” on their websites) could subject them to the laws and the courts of states in which their only presence is electronic.