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T&Cs of use for websites

Website terms and conditions

What are website terms and conditions? A dumb question, perhaps. Aren't they just terms and conditions that are ... found on websites?

For the purposes of this note, the answer is no!

In this note, the words "website terms and conditions" mean terms and conditions that are primarily concerned with the use of a website. Such T&Cs may normally be found on websites, but it's not the place of publication that matters.

Other types of terms and conditions that might be found on websites don't count. Standard terms of trading published on a website aren't terms and conditions on this definition. Neither are terms and conditions concerning the purchase of goods through a website.

Within this narrow definition, there remain a diversity of types of document, including:

  • non-contractual website disclaimer notices;
  • acceptable use policies;
  • terms of use for casual website visitors;
  • terms and conditions for registered users; and
  • user agreements for paying subscribers.

Do you need T&Cs?

But do you really need website terms and conditions?

To answer this question, we need to consider the various and overlapping functions of website T&Cs.

First, they may be used as a site for making disclosures required by statute. For example, UK companies legislation requires the disclosure of certain information on the websites of companies: company names, registration numbers and the like. T&Cs often include these disclosures, if only because they are the one part of a website prepared by lawyers, and lawyers know what needs to be disclosed.

Second, they may be used to help manage risk. All businesses involve risk; some much more than others. Risks take different forms: strategic risk, legal risk, reputational risk, financial risk and operational risk. T&Cs can help to manage some risks, but not others.

Third, terms and conditions can be used to structure the relationship between the website operator and users. Even if few users read website legal documents, it is in those documents that their rights and obligations are set down in black and white.

Fourth, every "respectable" website has terms and conditions, and their absence from a website will be seen by some users as a signal of amateurism. Poorly drafted T&Cs may be little better than no T&Cs in this sense (and possibly worse from a risk management perspective).

So, do you need website terms and conditions?

The importance of T&Cs will depend upon the nature of your site and business, but it's safe to say that almost all websites will benefit from a good set of T&Cs, and for many they will be necessary for legal compliance, a critical element of risk management, the key to organising the nexus of rights and obligations between website users and the site operator, and not entirely insignificant from a marketing/reputational perspective.