Unquestionably, the Internet continues to grow at an ever-increasing rate. Yet, whether hiring a professional web development team or building a web site from within using a CMS platform, few startups and individuals take the time and invest the resources to insulate themselves from legal liability or protect their intellectual property from theft. The following is a brief outline of the absolute basics to follow when creating a web site.

1. Incorporate Proper Legal Documentation. All sites need to establish rules governing site owner conduct. A customized, site-relevant Terms of Use is certainly critical. A well considered Privacy Policy is also incumbent — it is the site’s formal statement as to how the site and its operators collect and use personal information gathered from its users.

2. Determine What You Own (and what you don’t). As content is added to your site, it is essential to determine whether or not you have the legal right — through ownership or license — to use that content. If you don’t have a right to use it, then don’t use it.

3. DMCA Procedures. If your site allows users to upload content, you better have a proper DMCA policy and procedure in place. The DMCA, short for the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 2003, provides a "safe harbor" provision for web site owners who take the requisite legal action when claims of copyright infringement are lodged against the site for improper use of content.

4. Utilize "White Hat" SEO. Some may claim secret formulas that will magically boost your search engine rankings, but don’t fall for such "black hat" tactics. Attempting to unfairly manipulate Google, Yahoo!, Bing and their ilk to obtain higher organic search engine rankings can cause serious problems — such as de-listing, the death knell of your site. Do SEO right. And remember, there is no substitute for relevant, timely and well written content.

5. Protect Personal Information. All personal information should be properly protected and kept confidential pursuant to the site’s Privacy Policy. At the very least, personal information should never be disclosed or distributed to a third party without the individual’s express authorization.

6. Disclose Endorsements. In late 2009, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued new endorsement and testimonial guidelines. If you have any interest of any kind concerning any product or service in which you provide an endorsement or testimonial, you absolutely must disclose that interest.

7. Disclaim (and disclaim). People will do just about anything. Always anticipate that someone will interpret your message to an unreasonable degree, and when a problem occurs, blame you. Make sure your site makes the appropriate legal disclaimers.

8. Protect the Back End of the Site. If you are not the only person who has access to the back end of your site, various precautions should be implemented. All individuals who have access to the workings of the site should be required to sign Non-Disclosure or Confidentiality Agreements (NDAs) and Assignments.

9. Monitor Comments. Flaming, trolling, phishing, and any other conduct and content that fail to contribute to the site in a meaningful and positive way should not be tolerated. Monitor your site’s comments and contribution content and delete anything that is disparaging or demeaning to other visitors or that simply fails to add value to your site.

10. Protect Your Intellectual Property. Your site will necessarily comprise various forms of intellectual property (IP). Copyright and trademark registration should be pursued for the most effective protection. More recently, courts have come to recognize that the "look and feel" of a website may be a matter of trade dress protection. Consult an appropriate legal expert for further information as to how to perfect your rights in your web site’s IP.

Richard A. Catalina Jr., of counsel, is an Intellectual Property, Internet and Technology lawyer at Szaferman, Lakind, 101 Grovers Mill Road, Lawrenceville, NJ, 08648. He can be reached at 609-275-0400.

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