The Internet juggernaut has taken over and the stampede is on. New, online businesses are being created in high volume, and existing businesses are establishing online presences in numbers not thought possible only a decade ago. But, as is the case with all stampedes, there is bound to be a little chaos and some unintended damage done.
As entrepreneurs rush to embrace and cultivate an online presence, it is easy to forget that, when we open the door to the web, we are also opening ourselves up to some legal risk. We should remember however, that the laws of the paper-based world also apply in the online environment.
This article highlights some of the more relevant laws that apply when doing business online and the importance of ensuring full legal compliance.
Which Laws Apply?
There are many laws that apply when doing business online, including:
- Competition and Consumer law;
- Privacy law;
- Spam law;
- Copyright law; and
- Trade Marks law.
Competition and Consumer Law
The object of Competition and Consumer law is to promote competition and fair trading and provide for consumer protection. The most common breaches of trade practices laws relate to businesses engaging in conduct that it capable of misleading or deceiving consumers.
Privacy and Spam Law
If you are operating a website, users of your website should know:
- what information is being collected about them;
- how that information will be used;
- to whom that information will be disclosed to and under what circumstances; and
- how to access and verify the accuracy of that information.
The term ‘spam’ refers to unsolicited commercial electronic messages. Australian law provides that a person must not send (or cause to be sent) a commercial electronic message without the consent of a recipient. Consent may be express or inferred and is often central to disputes involving allegations of spamming.
A copyright infringement takes place where a person substantially reproduces another persons’ work, which is subject to copyright. In the online environment, this often relates to the unauthorised reproduction of text, images, video and sound recordings.
Trade Marks Law
Trade mark infringement occurs where one trader uses the trade mark of another trader, creating the likelihood of confusion in the market place. In the online environment, this often relates to the use of logos, brand names and in some circumstances, domain names.
You may be exposing your business to legal liability if you:
- display text or images on your website, which you or an employee did not create;
- display trade marks owned by other parties;
- run competitions without the relevant licenses (if required);
- link to other websites;
- do not display important legal documents; or
- send electronic messages without recipient consent.
There is a real tendency for people to overlook legal issues when doing business online. This is mostly due to the absence of education relating to electronic commerce and the associated laws that apply.
However, ignorance of the law is not a defence. You must ensure that you take steps to ensure that your online business practices do not contravene any laws. Otherwise, you may be subject to hefty financial penalties.
So, how do I find out whether or not my website is legally compliant?
To reduce risk arising from your online business practices, use the above information to review your website and create an action plan for compliance.
Alternatively, you can request Pod Legal conduct a full legal audit of your website. This is an affordable diagnosis of the legal risks to which your website may be exposing you to.
A Website Legal Audit performed by the Pod Legal team provides a comprehensive review of the content displayed on your website. This benefits your business by:
1. determining whether or not you are breaching any laws;
2. determining whether or not you may be infringing any third party rights;
3. identifying steps you need to take to manage legal risk; and
4. preventing legal and/or reputation consequences.
If you are conducting your own website audit, be sure to routinely check your website to ensure any future updates do not pose risk. Alternatively, you can order your website legal audit here with us, for absolute peace of mind.