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What are Terms of Use?

When you go on a website, you may notice the words, “Terms,” “Terms of Use,” or “Terms of Service.” For sake of simplicity, I will refer to this as, “terms of use” in this article. A website’s terms of use is the company’s policy describing how users may use its website and is a contract between the company and the user. A

Unlike a privacy policy, a terms of use is not legally required. However, it sets expectations for your service and can help protect your website, your users, and your company.

Setting Expectations for Users

A well-drafted terms of use describes the types of services available on a company’s website, how a user may use such services, the company’s monitoring policy, how the website interacts with third party websites or services, uses that are prohibited on the site, and how the company will use information uploaded or provided to the site (user-generated content), thus setting expectations for users. This notifies users of what can be expected from the site and they can choose to either accept the terms and continue using the site or reject the terms and stop using the site.

Protecting Your Website and Your Users

A terms of use can also protect your website against misuse. Your terms of use will define prohibited behaviors and your company’s recourse when it discovers that a user is engaging in such behaviors. This will enable your company to act swiftly and stop the problematic user from harming your website, your company, or other users. For example, you may decide to block access to your site or disable a user’s account if they violate your terms of use.

Protecting Your Company

The terms of use also protects your company against liability. For example, it can protect your company against inaccuracies or users acting on the information provided on your website because you can require users to agree not to hold you responsible as a condition of using the site.

What Should Be in My Terms of Use?

Terms of use generally contain descriptions of

  • your website’s services

  • how users may use your services

  • your rights to your intellectual property

  • your rights to use any intellectual property or user-generated content submitted on your site. For example, if people upload pictures or posting comments to be displayed on your site, you want permission to do so

  • your linking policy, including whether users can link to your site and any limitations on such links

  • whether you link to third parties

  • the types of use or behavior that is prohibited on the site. For example, many sites prohibit reverse engineering, testing the site for vulnerabilities, or using the site in a way that causes harm to other users.

  • how you monitor the site and requirements for consent to such monitoring as a condition to using the site

These descriptions set expectations for what can be expected from your service, how your service may be used, what is required for users to continue access and use of your service, your rights to your own intellectual property as well as your rights to use any intellectual property that’s posted on your site, what is prohibited on your site, and how you may monitor and terminate access to your services.

Because every company is unique, your terms of use will also be unique. To effectively protect your company and your website, your terms of use must be tailored to your company and be binding. You don’t want to give permission to use your website or your IP in ways you don’t intend to give and you want to obtain appropriate permissions from your users, including permission to use user-generated content and to act promptly in the event someone is misusing your site. In addition, you want to ensure that your terms of use are binding, so that they can be enforced.

If you have questions, we are here to help. You can schedule a free strategy session with us by clicking here.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Read our disclaimer here.

#privacypolicy #termsofuse #website

 
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