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Terms and Conditions for Sites – Meanings and Obligations

Just like physical stores have lists of rules, do's and don'ts that shoppers and visitors must adhere to, online websites also have regulations in place. Sites serve are places of business where the rights and obligations of users must be governed. These terms of use are usually accessible via a button on the site’s home page.

The terms of use of websites form an agreement between the site owners and its users and surfers. The agreement outlines the rules and procedures governing the use of the site, including the rights and obligations of both parties.

What is a Terms of Use Agreement?

A website’s Terms of Use agreement, also known as Terms of Service, Convention for Use, or by other names, is a document that outlines the rules and regulations governing the use of a website. It is an official document that sets forth conditions regarding the responsibilities of the website, and sometimes the associated business, towards visitors to the site, as well as the obligations of visitors towards the site. Typically, the document includes a privacy policy that details how information about visitors to the site is collected and the limitations of this collection. It may also cover rules regarding the use of copyright materials on the site, procedures for making purchases on the site (if applicable), and other relevant issues specific to the site.

When the website functions as an online marketplace and facilitates payments through credit card companies, these companies typically require the site to upload the terms of use to the site and may even review the document before granting site owners the option to use credit cards for purchases on the site.

Effective terms of use protect the site owner by clarifying the rules governing the site’s usage, and safeguards site visitors by providing them with information about how the site operates, its intended purpose, and limitations of its use.

Many publishers are unaware of their obligation to upload the terms of use to their site, leaving them vulnerable to potential lawsuits. Similarly, many site visitors are unaware of the terms of use governing the site they are accessing, thereby exposing themselves to the risk of having their activity suspended or facing sanctions on various sites.

Do Most Users Stop to Read the Terms of Use Agreement?

According to a survey by Eurobarometer, which conducts opinion polls conducted annually in EU countries on various topics, 67% of people do not bother to read terms of use agreements or the terms and conditions of various websites. Additionally, 38% of those who did attempt to read them were unable to decipher and understand them. This should pose a concern for website owners, particularly for sales sites relying on the protection provided by their terms of use, which are often presented in legal language that is not easily understood by most site visitors.

Claims regarding failure to read the terms of use agreement were as follows:

  • "You've seen one, you've seen them all." This implies that if a person has read one terms of use agreement on a particular site, they see no reason to read it again on every other site.

  • “How bad can these terms really be for me? I don't remember ever having decided to not use something because of its terms and conditions."

  • "I didn't even know there were terms of use."

Some websites force visitors to sign the terms of use before allowing access to the site. This is often done through a pop-up window that requires visitors to agree to the terms and conditions before continuing to desired page. In other cases, the agreement may be located in a relatively hidden area of the webpage, attracting minimal attention from visitors unless it is a sales site and visitors want to know the rules before making a purchase.

Why Do Sites Even Need Terms of Use or Usage Agreements?

Websites require terms of use agreements to provide site owners with legal protection and limit their exposure to lawsuits. They define the rights and responsibilities of both website owners and users, outlining acceptable behavior on the site. For example, terms of use agreements for websites where visitors upload content should include limitations on the liability of both site owners and visitors for any inappropriate content and specify the manner in which such content is handled and uploaded. As previously mentioned, credit card companies often require that sites post their terms of use before providing credit services to those sites.

In the terms of use I draft for websites, my aim is to safeguard website owners by providing utmost clarity regarding the offerings, operational procedures, and rules to be adhered to on the site. I ensure that these terms are both reasonable and logical, and they are designed to withstand legal scrutiny in the unfortunate event of a lawsuit. The terms of use shield website owners from any liability arising from content posted by site visitors that may infringe upon the rights of others. The terms of use clearly articulate community rules that prevent unacceptable and unreasonable content. If you own a website or are in the process of launching one, I am available to draft terms of use for you and provide guidance on potential legal vulnerabilities to mitigate the risk of lawsuits.

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