Edinburgh Web Development

Your website and the law

by Iain Wilson

27 February 2007

This month Blot Design caught up with Angus MacLeod, from solicitors Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP to discuss some of the legal aspects of operating a website.

WJM are a full service law firm with offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Angus MacLeod specialises in the Technology, Media and Intellectual Property areas and deals with web related legal issues on a daily basis.

BD: Angus, are people generally aware of their legal responsibilities when they launch a web site? AMcL: In general, no. There is a reasonable amount of current legislation relating to web sites and ecommerce that is quite specific and has largely been ignored by the web community. In many cases this not due to any deliberate policy by the individual or company, but more to do with lack of knowledge.

BD: Can you give us some examples? AMcL: The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is a very good example. The Act makes it unlawful for disabled people to be treated less favourably than others for a reason related to their disability. Most people relate this to providing physical facilities such as wheelchair access, but it also applies to website access. For example, people should still be able to use a website even though they have a sight or hearing disability. Recent surveys estimate that over 80% of websites don't comply - and this includes the sites of some of the world's biggest companies.

BD: What can happen if your site doesn't comply? AMcL: Well, you can be asked to make 'reasonable changes', or you could end up with an expensive court claim for discrimination. It's best to ensure that your web site developer can build to these requirements (since the Oct 2005 legislation, Blot Design do this by default, wherever possible) or get your current site checked out.

BD: What legal information should be on a web site? AMcL: Since January this year, you absolutely must have the registration details of your company on the site. This includes registered address, place of registration, registration number and your VAT number if applicable (see our article on company information on websites). It is also worth stating your policies on privacy, content warranty, 3rd party content and copyright. If you sell things online or provide online services, you must adhere to the distance selling regulations for all transactions with consumers. This is a subject in its own right, but you have a duty to do such things as represent yourself clearly, collect VAT, confirm transactions, provide a cooling off period and a returns policy.

BD: We're all heartily sick of email spam. What's the legal position on it? AMcL: The EU Anti-Spam directive (and equivalent legislation in other countries) says that you should not send unsolicited email to people unless they have 'opted-in'. You should ask for consent before sending a promotional email. Once exception is that using email to market your products and services to existing customers is permitted, provided you follow some basic rules.

BD: For most of us, the law seems vast and complicated. What the best way for a website owner to approach their legal responsibilities? AMcL: Consult your lawyer, of course! Most law firms that operate in the technology market will be able to give good advice that costs less than you might think. At WJM, we offer our free initial WebCheck service to diagnose any potential legal problems you might have with your site.

BD: Thanks, Angus.

Note - for the avoidance of doubt, nothing herein should be construed as providing legal advice of any kind.

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