When you launch a website or app you are probably not thinking about legal issues, but you should. Depending on what your website or app does, you may need legal terms to protect you.

In this post you’ll learn the basics of Terms of Use and Privacy Policies and why you might need them. In our next post we’ll explore what goes into each policy.

What are Terms of Use

Terms of Use (sometimes called Terms of Service or Terms and Conditions) are legal terms that your users accept and agree to when they use your website or app. They create a set of rules that you can enforce against your users and can include things like ownership of your intellectual property, rights to terminate a user’s access to your site, limitations on liability if your site goes down, prohibitions on people scraping your service with bots, and requirements that users use your local court if they want to sue you. (You might also include your DMCA/Copyright policy in your terms, or you might keep that separate.)

What is a Privacy Policy

A Privacy Policy is just that – a policy that dictates how you handle user privacy. Most policies will explain what information you collect about a user and how you use that information. And if you collect personally identifiable information, you should elaborate on how you might use that information as well.

Why You Might Need Terms of Use and a Privacy Policy

Most states do not require you to have Terms of Use. However, some states do require you to have a Privacy Policy, especially if you are collecting information about your users.

Other than state requirements, here are some reasons your startup’s website or app may need one or both:

  • If you are sharing a lot of content, you can use your terms to prohibit unauthorized use of your content.
  • If you want to prevent bots and automated systems from accessing your service, you can include prohibitions in your terms.
  • If you allow users to create user accounts, then you can create rules for who can create accounts and how you and them can terminate those accounts.
  • If you think you are exposing yourself to liability (like providing free self-help advice), you can use your terms to provide disclaimers and limitations on liability.
  • If there is any likely chance of someone suing you, you can use your terms to dictate which state’s law applies and what court they must sue you in. (You can also include an arbitration clause.)

And perhaps most importantly, if your startup is (a) collecting payments through your website or app; and/or (b) allowing people to upload and share content to your website or app, it is very critical that you have both Terms of Use and a Privacy Policy.

What’s Next

In our next post we’ll explore common provisions you’ll find in most website Terms of Use and Privacy Policies and help you decide what to include in yours.

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*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.