12 eCommerce Legal Issues to Consider in Operating an Online Business
The following article provides a high-level summary of some key eCommerce law issues online business operators face in running a website or other eCommerce business. Conducting business online or maintaining a website may subject companies and individuals to unforeseen legal liabilities. The following is a brief survey of 12 key eCommerce law issues to consider:
1. Internet Business & eCommerce
A good starting point is analyzing a company’s online presence and auditing their procedures to determine how to grow their brand and online influence. As part of this, the company’s agreements and websites should comply with the myriad of laws and regulations affecting websites and online businesses, such as COPPA.
2. Domain Name Acquisition
Domains are often the key to an online business, but can present a number of problems. Domain name issues include securing a domain name initially, as well as protecting domain names from adverse parties that attempt to trade off the goodwill associated with the company’s brand. Sometimes, the company needs defense, retrieval, and protection of domain names on the Internet.
3. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) Compliance
Companies operating websites, particularly where third-party content may be uploaded directly, should consider adopting agreements and procedures to shield themselves against claims of liability and copyright infringement. This procedure is sometimes referred to as a “copyright policy” or “DMCA takedown” procedure. Compliance with the DMCA can provide the online operator with a safe harbor from liability.
4. Online Privacy
Online privacy continues to become a bigger issue. With the spread of mobile devices, tablets, and apps, privacy issues are becoming more complex. Companies should consider composing or updating their privacy policies as well as adopting internal security protocols aimed at protecting the online privacy of customers and website users.
5. Social Media Law
While a powerful vehicle to build brand strength and interact with customers, social media can create a number of legal issues for online businesses. A social media policy provided to employees as well as guidelines can be effective steps to reduce risk. A few key areas to consider are employment related use of social media, confidentiality, sponsorship, and branding guidelines.
6. Privacy Policies
Privacy policies should not be copied from online templates or rival companies. They should be drafted comprehensively to address unique issues of a specific online business and to accommodate future growth. Whether a company looks to collect analytics or more personalized information, the company should focus on its specific business needs and risk factors. Privacy policies should be updated as a business evolves.
8. eCommerce Agreements
eCommerce agreements come in many forms such as licensing, advertising agreements, and payment processor agreements. eCommerce agreements should be drafted to address the primary legal risks involved in a particular eCommerce contract or business transaction.
9. Online Sweepstakes & Games
Online sweepstakes, contests, and games create a number of legal pitfalls. Depending on the sweepstake, contest, or game, compliance with the laws of all 50 states as well as the federal government may be required. Registration in specific states may also be required. Online businesses may benefit from guidance as to whether a particular new initiative is considered a sweepstake, contest, or game.
10. Domain Theft
Recovering hijacked domains can often be difficult and time-consuming. Typically, avoiding domain theft in the first place is much easier than attempting to recover a stolen domain. While difficult, it is possible to recover a hijacked domain.
11. Website Agreements
Website agreements can be customized to limit legal liability and reduce risks of disputes by analyzing an online business’s intellectual property portfolio, business processes, and brand objectives. Website agreements can be used for mobile applications in addition to websites.
12. Impersonation and Username Squatting
Impersonation and username squatting can occur when a third party registers a social media account using someone else’s identity. This can result in harmful posts and information being published in social media. Username squatting can also prevent a trademark or brand owner from controlling their trademark. Typically, registering usernames in advance is the best strategy to avoid impersonation or username squatting.
While the above identifies a number of eCommerce and internet law issues affecting website and online business operators, an in-depth analysis may be required. For more information, you may want to contact an eCommerce attorney.
Disclaimer – As with any discussion of legal topics, this article is intended to be educational only, and is not a substitute for legal advice, nor does it provide legal advice or form an attorney-client relationship with the reader. Please seek legal counsel before making any decisions. Also, please note that this article will likely not be updated, so the law and circumstances may have changed by the time you have read this article.