Acceptable use policy

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A policy to regulate the use of an entire website or a website feature, setting out in detail what users are not permitted to do.

Author: Alasdair Taylor
Updated: 13 September 2020
Length: 4 pages
Notes: 5 pages
Format: MS Word (.DOCX)

This acceptable use policy (or AUP) template details the sorts of content that a user may - and may not - submit to an online service (such as a website) for publication.

The publication of user-generated content (UGC) by a website operator may create liabilities for the operator, even where the website operator does not exercise any editorial function and does not moderate the UGC.

The policy may be used to prohibit both unlawful content and offensive content. Unlawful content includes content that is defamatory, obscene, in breach of privacy laws or infringing intellectual property rights. Offensive content may include content that is pornographic, graphically violent, or perhaps just uncivil or unsuitable for your the relevant website, forum or blog.

This acceptable usage policy is an extended version of the policies on usage contained in our blog terms and conditions template, our social networking terms and conditions and our other website terms of use templates designed to cover user-generated content.

Acceptable use policies in detail

Acceptable use policies set out the kinds of website use that are acceptable and the kinds of website use that are unacceptable.

One big area of worry for web publishers whose sites publish user content is the possibility of getting sued because that content is defamatory, infringes someone's copyright, breaches a court order or is otherwise unlawful. Even though a web publisher might not review user content before publication, and might not even be aware that it has been published, the publisher can still be held to be liable in respect of that content.

The harshness of this principle is mitigated in the UK by special rules under the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002, the Defamation Act 1996 and the Defamation Act 2013. However, Regulations 17 to 19 of the former include special defences in relation to hosting, caching and acting as a "mere conduit" of unlawful content. The use of a properly drafted acceptable use policy, together with appropriate business policies and mechanisms, could make the difference between the success or failure of a defence under the 2002 Regulations or the 1996 and 2013 Acts.

The policy should be used in conjunction with a website terms of use document (or website disclaimer document), which will cover the other legal issues affecting websites, such as limitations of liability and statutory disclosures.

Most websites that allow the publication of user generated content require registration, and registration almost always involves the collection of personal information. If you collect personal information through a website, you may also need a website privacy policy to aid compliance with data protection legislation.

Contents of this AUP

The key provisions in the policy include the following.

General restrictions: The general restrictions section focuses upon the use of the website generally, rather than the specific nature of the user content. Unlawful, illegal, fraudulent and harmful usage may be prohibited using this section. You may also specify here that user content must be suitable for users of the appropriate age group. This is a subjective criterion but, insofar as children are concerned, there will be clear cases of suitability and unsuitability.

Unlawful and illegal material: A general prohibition on unlawful and illegal content is supplemented here by specific prohibitions covering libel, malicious falsehood, obscenity, indecency, IP infringement, breach of confidence, data protection breaches, negligent misstatement, incitement, contempt, etc.

Marketing and spam: The use of the website for marketing purposes, at least without express permission, is prohibited by this section.

Breaches of this Policy: The acceptable use policy template provides that a user who breaches the policy terms may suffer any or all of the following consequences: the deletion or editing of the user's content; the issue of formal warnings; the suspension or prohibition of access to the site or service; the blockage of access via IP address; requests to the user's ISP that the user be blocked from accessing the site or service; and/or the issue of court proceedings.

  1. This Policy
  2. General restrictions
  3. Licence
  4. Unlawful and illegal material
  5. Graphic material
  6. Harmful software
  7. Factual accuracy
  8. Negligent advice
  9. Marketing and spam
  10. Netiquette
  11. Hyperlinks
  12. Breaches of this Policy
  13. Banned users
  14. Monitoring
  15. Applicable law

Does this policy prohibit the non-automated data extraction?

Yes. The suggested data mining clause covers both automated and non-automated but systematic data collection activities.

How could this template acceptable use policy help to reduce libel risk?

Several of the provisions in the policy have been drafted with libel in mind. First, the publication of libellous material on the website is expressly prohibited. Second, an optional provision provides that factual statements must be true and statements of opinion must be truly held and where possible based on facts that are true. These provisions were drafted to take account of the libel defences of justification and fair comment. Third, the policy provides that the website owner does not actively monitor user content. Monitoring is often impractical, and this approach to user content may help website owners to take advantage of the defence in Section 1 of the Defamation Act 1996.

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