Ignorance is not bliss. You need to legally protect yourself.
When I first started blogging, worrying about privacy or copyrights didn’t even cross my mind. Most new bloggers don’t realize that there are certain pages they need on their site in order to follow the rules, either. What rules? The rules about data protection, e-commerce and liability. You need to know and to have the pages in place on your site to legally protect yourself. But you can write them yourself.
Did you know that if you make a statement of advice, you could be held responsible for the results of that advice? How do you stop someone from stealing all your content and hard work? And what in the world is GDPR, and why should you even be bothered? The first time I became aware of these issues, I didn’t know what to think.
The questions of liability, copyright and privacy can be complicated and confusing. And if you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to ignore it all in favor of “figuring it out later.” But this is one of those things where leaving it to figure it out later can lead to devastating consequences.
Liability means that someone can sue you or your family for something you posted on your blog. And while most countries extend copyright to the writer automatically, without a specific, dated, statement of copyright, protecting your content can be hard to do.
And lately, the newest data protection laws, the GDPR — General Data Protection Regulation — out of the EU, and it’s related EU/US Privacy Shield, has far reaching consequences. Failure to follow the rules may end up biting you in the behind!
How do you protect your business?
To protect yourself, your (potential) income, and your hard work, there are five legal pages every website should have.
First, tell your user what data you collect. Be specific in exactly what information you collect. You may collect more data than you think you do, too. It’s not just the name and email address you ask for on your email sign up form. Don’t forget about the name, email and possible website link you collect in your comment section. Or the billing information you may collect in your website store. You’ll also need to list the data you collect on your website statistics — the geographical and internet data that tells you where your audience is and how they found your site.
Second, tell your user how you get their information. Some places are obvious, like in your email subscription form or contact form. But other collection points are less visible, like the tracking applications you use to get your website statistics.
Third, inform your user about why you collect the information you do. You can use a generic statement on how the data you collect is to help you help them, or to make your website function correctly.
Fourth, share exactly what you use the data for. For example, if you collect a name and email address for email marketing, make sure you say exactly that.
Storage and Protection
Fifth, assure your user that their data is protected, to the best of your ability. But you’ll also want to make sure you legally protect yourself by letting your reader know that if, despite your best efforts, you do experience a data breach, you can’t be held responsible for the misuse of their data.
Right to Access
Sixth, acknowledge that your user has the right to access the data you collect on them. So provide a way to contact you in order to access their data.
Right to Delete
And seventh, make sure that you tell your reader they can have you delete any of their data you may have collected about them.
Terms & Conditions
The terms & conditions page protects your copyright to your content, tells your user how they can use your content and what you can or can’t be held responsible for. These three main sections get rather technical and detailed, though, so be careful when you write this out.
First, detail exactly what you have copyright over, and who owns the copyright. List your full business or blog name here. And make sure you date when this was last updated. Update at least once a year.
Second, share how your content can be used. Who can link to your site without asking you first? What kind of credit do you need? Can those links or descriptions use your images, even if credit is given? List all the ways you want your posts to be shared or linked to.
Third, legally protect yourself by limiting your liability. Tell your readers that if they make a decision based on your content, you can’t be held liable for the results. Then you can link to your disclaimer.
A disclaimer is to legally protect yourself and your blog from claims of liability and misrepresentation. Even if you are a licensed professional (for example, a dietitian), make sure your audience knows that you’re not their professional, and you aren’t giving them professional advice.
Your disclaimer states that your content is for information or education purposes only. It tells your readers to use at their own risk. And it should also state that your blog posts or content are your opinion only, and can’t be taken as statements of fact or professional advice.
Don’t forget you need to tell your users that you aren’t a representative of a specific organization, and you don’t make statements on their behalf.
Your disclosure is your global statement that you have this site for the purposes of making money. Then you list all the ways that you make money, whether through advertising, affiliates, paid links, sponsored posts, or other income sources.
Also, write something to the effect that all affiliate or sponsored posts and links will be clearly marked as such.
If you write reviews, say so. But you can include that the opinions are yours, and that you aren’t providing content that is a conflict of interest. On the specific posts, declare what is sponsored, what is paid for, and what you got in exchange for the review, if anything.
You don’t have to apologize for any of this! Most people realize that bloggers make money. They just want you to be honest about it. So own that you make money from your work. It’s ok.
The key to writing your own legal documents is to be as clear as you can. Using jargon you aren’t sure of the meaning won’t help you legally protect yourself or your audience. Keep it simple. Say exactly what you are doing, and be honest about it. And legal pages aren’t the place to try to be clever or cute. Just be straightforward with your words.