Legal Issues when Making a New Website

Creation of a website

Due to the huge impact the internet has on the way we conduct trade and communicate with the world, it is essential nowadays for any business to have a functioning website. The creation of a website can be a fairly simple process but there are certain legal issues which should be borne in mind.

What legal issues will arise when a website is created?

Copyright

One of the main legal rights created when a website is set up is that of copyright protection under the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

The Act provides copyright protection to any literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, film or broadcast work that falls within the Act’s definition of originality when it was created. The creator of an original work gains exclusive rights for its use and distribution. The copyright protection is automatic; no formal registration of the copyrighted work is required.

When a website is created copyright protection is likely to exist in relation to:

  • the text of the site – can be protected as a literary work;
  • the pictures on the site – can be protected as either photographic or artistic work;
  • any clips or videos on the site – can be protected as a film and or dramatic work.

Ownership of the copyright in the different elements of the site will often belong to different people. Upon creation of the site therefore, it is necessary to assess who owns what copyrights on the site and complete the assignment process of all relevant copyrights to you where possible. This will also detail the various rights that people will have in relation to the site and what can be done with each of the elements making up the site.

What laws could I infringe when I create a website?

When putting text or images onto your site, you need to be careful regarding copying text and images or any other material from third parties, otherwise you could find yourself at the wrong end of an action for copyright infringement.

When setting up a website, you should also ensure you’re not using a domain name which is already owned by a third party. You can check if the UK domain name you want to use is available on the nominet website, which manages the UK domain registry. You also need to check with the Intellectual Property Office that any of the materials (eg, branding) you want to use doesn’t infringe someone else’s trade mark rights.

Intellectual property law is simply one issue which affects websites. Another potential stumbling block is libel. Someone writing for a website should be conscious that any derogatory comments they or another person posts on their website could give rise to a defamation claim. This will be a civil action and could be extremely costly in terms of damages.

When material is being provided for your website, you should also be wary of publishing anything that could amount to:

  • contempt of court under the Contempt of Court Act 1981;
  • obscenity under the Obscene Publications Acts 1959;
  • inciting racial hatred under the Public Order Act 1986.

Consumer laws

There are numerous laws designed to protect consumers and others involved in online activity. When setting up and running a website it is imperative that these laws are followed including rules in relation to:

  • accessibility requirements (failure to follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines could lead to you facing a disability discrimination claim);
  • data protection law (the Data Protection Act 1998 provides rules on how information from prospective clients can be collected and stored);
  • e-marketing law (the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 protect consumers from unfair, misleading or aggressive selling practices);
  • e-commerce law (the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 outlines the legal rules that online retailers and service providers must comply with when dealing with consumers in the EU);
  • cookies (the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003 outline the rules for the use of cookies and similar technologies for storing information, and accessing information stored on a user’s computer, phone, etc).