Required Blog Legal Notices
Required Blog Legal Notices
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When you walk into almost any business in the US, you are greeted with legal notices. They cover everything from store policies to state laws. A blog is no different. Bloggers must provide notices to their visitors. There are several types of these notices that you must install on your site.
A Privacy Notice is required by most governments and by all third-party companies with whom you may do business, such as advertising networks or affiliates. The purpose of a privacy notice is to notify your site visitors about how you collect, store, and release the personal information you collect.
All sites collect data either actively or passively. Active collection is when you ask visitors for information, like to sign up for a newsletter or to process a credit card. Passive collection is when you, or one of your ad or affiliate networks, drops a cookie on your visitor’s computer for tracking purposes.
You can put anything you want into your Privacy Notice, even going so far as saying that you intend to use data their data in any way you wish. That’s unwise to do, of course, but you must transparently describe your policies whatever they may be.
Governmental Requirement Examples
United States Regulations
The US Constitution presumes a right to privacy in the Fourth Amendment, and perhaps others. The term “privacy” is not mentioned in any of the amendments, but the principle permeates them
Different US government agencies enforce data collection and how it is used. For example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) administers the Privacy Act of 1974 (2015 edition), which primarily addresses the governmental handling of data and says that disclosure is required when anyone collects data. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is more consumer-oriented and has set regulations about how you can collect and use email addresses with the CAN-SPAM Act.
Various US legislation deals with privacy for certain groups of people or certain kinds of transactions. They include:
- Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)\
- Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA)
- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
- Financial Services Modernization Act (GLBA)
- Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA)
Yes, this is a piecemeal approach and not the best way to handle privacy. Most bloggers need not concern themselves with the details of these laws, but should at least be aware of these and others. The one major exception would be the COPPA law. Today, you must declare If your blog is for children or not, and you need to have COPPA protections in place.
European Union (EU) Regulations
The EU has acted far more comprehensive privacy law called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It is designed to protect the online privacy of EU citizens, but many people think it is a somewhat perverted attempt to manipulate data worldwide. The GDPR is draconian, and the worst part is that they say the law applies to all sites worldwide, not just those located in the EU. That’s a massive power grab since the EU has implemented the law by decree, not treaty.
How should a blogger deal with the GDPR? Two things. First, become aware of the law by visiting the official GDPR site. Knowledge is power.
The second thing to do is install one of the GDPR plug-ins for WordPress sites. This simple job installs all the notices and other technical aspects to help you comply with the GDPR. The plug-in programmers say they update them regularly to maintain compliance, but like all legal matters, that is not guaranteed.
Visitor notices may seem like something you can add anytime, but they are far more critical than that. You want to make sure they are in place when you launch your site.
Various Other Laws
In the US, several states have implemented laws. They are primarily aimed at people who operate a website within the geographical boundaries where they have jurisdiction. One state law that deserves special attention at this writing is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which protects California consumers even when the owner of the site does not reside in California.
New laws are being enacted all the time, and old rules are being updated. The average blogger cannot keep up with them. Fortunately, some websites keep track of this kind of information. The National Conference of State Legislatures site does an excellent job of disseminating this information, and you should check it out to see what might apply to you.
These are just samples of the various regulations in place. They may seem like a pain to implement, but privacy is a significant issue and your blog visitors have a right to know your policies. You need to check the laws in your country, state, or other jurisdiction.
Free Privacy Notice Generator
Be aware that you will likely need to adapt it for your own geographical location and business model. Consult an intellectual property attorney in your region if needed.
Terms of Service (TOS)
A TOS is a legal agreement between the blogger and the visitor. It serves two primary purposes:
- It informs your site visitors about the rules in place, and the use of the site is conditional upon their acceptance of the rules.
- It is designed to help protect you from legal action by defining boundaries for visitors.
The Types of Terms Covered
The agreement generally covers these types of issues but may include many other topics.
- Proper or expected usage; definition of misuse
- Accountability for online actions, behavior, and conduct
- Payment details for memberships or subscriptions
- Notification of government or other requests for personal data
- Data tracking policy and opt-out availability
- Transparency relating to government or law enforcement requests
- Arbitration or legal dispute resolution procedures
- Disclaimer/Limitation of Liability terms
As always, remember that you will likely need to make changes to the generated document to fit your own geographical location and business model. Only you know if you need to consult an intellectual property attorney in your region, depending on your circumstances.
A Free Terms of Service Generator
This site offers a free Terms of Service generator that you can adapt for your own use. Never be mislead into paying online for this kind of legal boilerplate. It is better to use a free source and then take it to an attorney for revision if you have unusual circumstances that need attention.
A copyright notice is two-pronged. On the one hand, you are claiming your own copyright. Your official notice about how you handle infringement put would-be thieves on legal notice.
On the other, you are acknowledging the copyrights (and trademarks) of others and provide them with contact data so you can correct any wrongs. You can avoid liability for infringement sometimes if someone catches you using their copyrighted material and can reach you. You simply remove whatever you might have accidentally posted. Sometimes people may want to sue you over such matters, but I discuss copyright here and plagiarism in this post. Notices and disclaimers will not help you in some cases, and then you need to contact a lawyer.
This notice is NOT a registration of a copyright with the US Copyright Office. It is merely a legal notice about how you handle copyright issues.
You can see how I handle my copyright notice here. As you see, I cluster it with other notices and disclaimers that you can access through any page on my site. You may wish to include your notice in your TOS or elsewhere.
The US Federal Trade Commission and affiliate networks require you give notice to your site visitors that you may earn money from affiliate links. Advertisements don’t require a disclaimer because consumers know they are ads. Links are more stealthy, so disclosure is required.
Here’s the disclaimer I use:
This page contains affiliate links. This means we may receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you, if you make a purchase through one of these links. In addition, we are an Amazon Associate and earn from qualifying purchases. See the full FTC Compliance Notice here.
Notice it has three parts. The first is the notice and the explanation for it. The second gives special attention to Amazon, and the third part is a link my full FTC disclosure. Amazon requires its affiliates to use the exact language I have included, so that is why it is different.
Some bloggers want to hide their Affiliate Disclaimer at the bottom of the page or elsewhere. That defeats the entire idea of disclosure, so you want to display your affiliate relationship proudly. I put it in the sidebar of each of my WordPress posts, and I try to keep it in the top half of the page. Yes, an Affiliate Disclaimer is that important for bloggers who expect to make money.
If you offer any kind of money-making opportunity, even in the most remote manner, you are well-advised to include an Income Disclaimer on your site. You are stating that you don’t guarantee any income results via the information you provide. The person who uses your information assumes all liability.
Like the Affiliate Disclaimer, you should display an Income Disclaimer summary on each page, with a link to your in-depth disclaimer. View any page on this site to see how I have done it.
There are plenty of online examples you can adapt for your own use. I see that some attorneys are charging $19.95 for a simple Income Disclaimer, but no protections seem to come with it, so that is not money well-spent.
Your country or state many require additional legal notices. You need to verify what’s required and make sure it appears on your site. Often you can rewrite so-called “boilerplate” notices to fit your own needs. However, there may be cases when you need to have an intellectual property attorney in your locale read and approve it.