5 Online Legal Mistakes You’ve Probably Already Made


Congratulations! You launched your website! But, little did you know, you broke the law the second it went live. In this video, Eric Spellmann explains the five common legal mistakes businesses make online. Don’t be one of the surprised business owners who are served a cyber-lawsuit simply because your web developer was legally naive.

Links in this Video

  1. iStock Photo
  2. Big Stock Photo
  3. Who.Godaddy.com


Note from Eric: Below, you will find a word-for-word transcript of this video. I provide this as an aid for the hearing-impaired and for those who might just want to read it rather than watch the video. This conversational style is not reflective of how I write. Be nice! 5 Online Legal Mistakes You’ve Probably Already Made by Eric Spellmann

Hey I’m Eric Spellmann with Spellmann & Associates and today we’re going to talk about 5 online legal mistakes you’ve probably already made! But before I get going into this, let me throw out this one little disclaimer. Whenever I talk about legal matters, remember I’m not giving you any legal advice.

You always need to check with a lawyer. And in fact it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer. A lawyer who understands things like intellectual property rights and online legal issues, so anything you hear me say here, always verify with your lawyer first before putting into practice.

The number one mistake people have probably already made is ignoring privacy concerns. Every website in my opinion, should have a privacy policy. Now, legally they don’t have to but it is really important as it relates to telling people what you’re going to do with any information you collect.

If your website collects any kind of information at all, specifically sensitive information like social security numbers or credit cards, then you definitely need to have some sort of policy that states what you’re going to do with that information and how you’re going to take care of it.

If your website is asking for children to give their information maybe to sign up for a kids’ game or something like that then definitely you need a privacy policy. That once again explains that you won’t be selling that information or giving it or whatever you’re going to do. So, if there are children involved in giving you information, you’ve got to have a privacy policy, in my opinion.

One of the best ways to do, as people ask me all the time how to get a privacy policy. Well there’s two ways for that. Number one, is that you can just go, grab someone else’s and change all the information. And as long as it’s relevant, then that’s fine. Privacy policies aren’t really copyrighted per se; they’re more like a list of rules.

But an easier way, and probably a faster way, and especially a more accurate way is to go to one of these websites. And one of my favorites is generateprivacypolicy.com.

And there, you can just give some information, tell em what kind of information you’re tracking or asking for and it will generate the policy. You can then give what it generates to your web developer and they can create a privacy policy page. Once again, before you ever get it posted on a website, I really think it’s a good idea if you have your attorney read it over just to make sure you didn’t leave anything out.

The number two mistake people make is not owning their domain name. Now remember from previous videos, your domain is your “dot com”. It’s your address. You’ve got to own that thing folks. The key to know whether you own it or not, because I know some of you have no idea who owns it because chances are you may have had your web developer register it for you.

You’ve got to make sure that that web developer didn’t put it under their name. Because if something ever happens in the future, if you ever have a problem with that web developer and you want to move on and move your website somewhere else, well if he owns it he doesn’t have to let it go. Then you get him into a big legal fight and all that!

It’s ok to have someone else help you register a domain name but make sure you are the owner. Now, how do we know who is the actual owner? Well, whenever you do a “who is” search, which is really how we check this thing out and check if someone owns a domain name or not.

There’s going to be listings of information. The registrant is the owner. The registrant is the person who registered the domain name and he/she is the actual, legal owner of the web domain, email domain or whatever kind of domain you have.

There are also contacts. Now the contacts can be other people because if something ever goes on with the domain these are people that can be contacted like billing and things like that. But you need to be the registrant, that is the most important thing. You’re probably thinking how do I find out? Well, one of my favorite places to go is a website called “who.godaddy.com” and you can type in your domain name and it will tell you who the actual registrant is.

If it doesn’t tell you, like it says the registrant does not allow this or something like that, it may be private. Or if they are registered somewhere else other than GoDaddy like register.com or network solutions, you may want to use the “who is” lookup over there. That’s how we search for these kind of things.

Number three mistake is not owning your website. Yes you need to own your website and that’s because different states have different laws as it relates to owning your website and different countries do too. For instance, in the state of Texas, as of the making of this video, anyone who builds a website for you even though you pay them, that person owns the intellectual property rights to everything he created for you.

And what I am saying is, you need them to give that to you and waive their rights. And the reason I say that is you don’t want a situation where you’re not happy with your web developer and you want to leave and take your website and all those graphics with you. Well, legally that web developer could hold that stuff hostage and you’d have to start all over from scratch. So, get them to document that you own it, that they’ve handed over the ownership to you.

Define exactly what’s included in there. I recommend that it includes all of the graphic files, all the webpages and even the files designed by Photoshop, what we call the raw graphic files that they used to build the site. That way someone else could pick up and work on the files without having to re-create them in Photoshop.

Basically, the website and anything used to create it should be included in that. And yes, for those of you curious, Spellmann & Associates is a web designing firm. And yes the website belongs 100% to you. And if you ever want it, you can have it all with every single thing used to build it.

The number four mistake people make is using copyrighted images. And what I mean by that is, they’re going on the internet, doing a Google search, looking at images and then saying I want to use that image on my website. Folks you can’t do that. That’s illegal!

People will come after you, specifically Getty. Getty Images is one of the largest collectors of images out there and they collect the licenses basically and they help people who create the images to maintain those licenses.

What a Getty letter is that they have this automated robot who goes out and looks at all the images on all the websites and if they find that there is an image on a website and they don’t have a record of that website getting from Getty, they will send the owner of the website a letter saying that you’ve copied our image and now you need to pay us this much thousand dollars. Technically, and legally, Getty is in their right to do that. You don’t want a Getty letter, is my point. So don’t copy images.

You must be wondering, ”Eric if I want an image and if I’m not a good photographer, what do I do?” Go to stock photography sites. One of my favorites is istockphoto.com. So basically when you go there, you can do a search and they have hundreds of thousands if not a million photos.

And basically you say you want a picture of balloons. And they’ll show you all the results and you buy the image or buy the rights to use that image on your website. That way you stay totally legal. Another really good one and I’ve found this to be a little cheaper than istockphoto.com is bigstockphoto.com. And then finally there’s shutterstockphoto.com.

So out of these three, I probably use istockphoto.com the most, bigstockphoto.com is the cheapest and I’ve started to pull a lot more images from them , and then I use shutterstockphoto.com if I can’t find the images on any of the top two mentioned websites. Shutter stock has a real interesting way of selling images, and that is now you can get practically unlimited images for a specific price. And so if you need a lot of images, they might be the place to stop.

The number five mistake people typically make legally online is not owning their content. In other words, they are not writers and the need something about their services or their products. And so they’ll go online, do a search similar to images and but this time they are copying and pasting text. You don’t want to do that.

Because there are a lot of places out there who will call you on the carpet for it. It can totally get you busted. And it’s very easy to check. Just ask any student, in writing their thesis or report, what happens if the teacher finds a copy of their stuff on the internet. One of the best places to check for plagiarism, if you think someone might be plagiarising your content, or if you’re worried that something that was given to you might be copied off the internet.

Go to dustball.com and click on the plagiarism checker, copy and paste a paragraph and it will tell you all the other places on the internet where that paragraph is. You can also do that in Google technically. Put quotes around some text, put it in Google and it will tell you if any other place on the internet has that exact phrase in that exact order.

So what are some solutions for not owning your content? I mean you said what are some solutions for content if you need it. Not everyone is a writer, I am a writer and I love to write. But not everyone is, and if you need content and if you just can’t generate it your self, well get their permission. You can contact someone and say hey can I use this? So for instance, if you’re a retailer and you want to copy the product descriptions for your shopping cart from that of the manufacturer’s, simply ask for their permission. And chances are they’ll give you permission because you’re selling their products.

You can always write it yourself with a little practice. Most people think they can’t write, but in reality they can! You know more about your company, you know more about your organization, you know more about what you do than anyone else out there. So you might just give it a try. Or you can pay someone. And yes there are some people out there called copywriters.

You give them a title and some bullet points, and they will write it all really nice for you and it looks really professional. So there’s a lot of ways to get unique content. By the way one of the biggest reasons to not copy off the internet is that Google is looking for unique content.

And when they’re ranking you, if they find content someone else has or if the content is on other sites, you don’t get any credit for that. Especially you don’t get any credit for the keywords in that copied text. But if it’s unique, if it’s nowhere else on the internet, Google gives you a lot of credit from a rankings standpoint.

Once again, I am Eric Spellmann with Spellmann & Associates. You can see all the videos that I do at EricSpellmann.com. And remember, if you ever have any questions give me a call at the number you’re seeing or shoot me an email, I’ll be more than happy to help. I’ll see you in cyberspace.