Don't Let Your Website Land You in Court: 4 Tips to Stay Legal

Larry Alton
by Larry Alton 16 Jan, 2023

Half of having a successful website is producing wonderful content people can't get enough of. The other half is maintaining integrity with the law to keep your website in business.


It seems cut and dry. Unless you're engaging in illegal activity, you have nothing to worry about, right? Well, not exactly. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against website owners for many reasons, including not making their website accessible to people with disabilities.


Here are four tips to avoid breaking the law:


1. Get your website compliant with accessibility laws


Website accessibility is something almost everyone ignores, but it's regulated by The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Ecommerce sites often exclude people with disabilities, creating websites that are impossible for them to navigate.

Courts have ruled it unlawful to deny disabled people the opportunity to participate in the services offered by websites. Lawsuits against website owners are growing in this area, and there have been several settlement agreements as a result of inaccessible websites.

The last thing you want to do is overhaul your website (again), but if you're selling goods and services to people, you should reconsider. Although there is no technical standard for accessibility set by the ADA, there are principles and guidelines that are considered a basic level of compliance.


2. Know your affiliate marketing rules


You might think breaking your affiliate contracts isn't serious. The company has thousands of affiliates, so why would they bother pursuing you in court? The answer depends on what part of the contract you violate. If you click on too many of your own links, or advertise through unauthorized methods, they'll probably just close your account.

The mistake that can land you in court is using the company's branded or trademarked keywords in your own PPC ads (like Adwords). This isn't always a violation - it depends on what's in your contract.

If you haven't read your affiliate contracts in a while, it's time to familiarize yourself with the fine print. Even if the company doesn't explicitly forbid using their branded or trademarked keywords in PPC ads, it's better to avoid it until you know it's explicitly allowed. If you're not sure, ask the company directly.

If you think you won't get caught, think again. Programs like Brand Verity are already helping companies identify PPC trademark violations.


3. Avoid violating copyright law

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter show a steady stream of copyright violations that go unprosecuted, but that doesn't mean you can do it on your website.

All it takes is one incident to generate tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Copyright violations are a Federal offense; you can expect to be in debt for the rest of your life if you're found guilty.

Copyright violations aren't always straightforward

In 2015, South Korea's largest media entertainment company, CJ E&M, along with its American counterpart, faced a $50 million lawsuit in the U.S. Although they obtained international distribution rights, a software bug allowed U.S. citizens to purchase through their Korean website, which reduced artist royalties.

Not everyone brought to court is found guilty, but it takes time, energy, and piles of cash to prove your innocence.


Innocent people end up in court all the time

Even if you bought a license to use copyrighted material, you could still end up in a lawsuit until you can prove it. If you find yourself being questioned by the feds over a copyright dispute, just because you're innocent doesn't mean you should speak. They're trained to manipulate you into sharing information they can legally use as a confession.

Law expert Rowdy Williams comments on how police extract confessions, "The officer begins by stating as a definitive conclusion that the suspect is guilty, and he knows it and has all the evidence he needs to make an open-and-shut case... the officer dismisses any claims of innocence by the suspect as ridiculous and contrary to the evidence, even if the officer does not actually have evidence that refutes it."


Whether you're guilty or innocent, it's best to exercise your right to remain silent. You'll be provided an opportunity to find your license and prove your innocence.

4. Always save proof of your purchases

Anytime you purchase intellectual property like images, video, and software, make sure you print and save the licensing information and proof of payment. If there's an account associated with the purchase, document that, too. If you do end up in court, the company might need your email address to search their records for a legitimate purchase.


About the Author

Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he's also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on  Twitter and  LinkedIn.