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        A Home-Based Business Online
        Minimizing legal liability for your small business.

        a home based business onlinehome business ideas

        How to Minimize Legal Liability In Your Online Business

        © 2000-2021 Elena Fawkner

        Have you ever had the edifying experience of receiving
        an unjustified spam complaint from a complete nutter?  I did,
        just this week.  It seems to be an unfortunate fact of life for
        those of use who run an online business.


        The whole experience got me thinking just how vulnerable
        those of us running online businesses are to those
        individuals whose sole purpose in life seems to be to attempt
        to destroy other people's livelihoods.  Their ability to wield such
        power is, of course, only facilitated by the lack of natural
        justice that seems to apply in the online world.  Where else
        could you be tried and convicted of a crime without even
        knowing your accuser or being given the opportunity to
        present your side of the case?
         

        Now, there's not much you can do to protect yourself from
        the crazies in this world if they decide to target you.  But you
        CAN minimize the areas of liability you are necessarily
        exposed to in your online (or offline) business.  This article
        discusses a few of those areas and ways you can minimize
        your legal liability.
         

        => Spam
         

        Also known as "unsolicited commercial email", spam is
        simply a fact of internet life.  Do yourself a favor.  Accept it
        as such and move on.  Life is too short to try and move an
        immovable force.
         

        Now, having said that, let me say this.  DON'T SPAM
        ANYONE.  EVER.  Period.  It's no way to do business, it
        doesn't work and it will only cause you and your business
        untold grief.
         

        If you want to mass mail your offer, the only effective way
        is to cultivate your own opt-in mailing list or to purchase
        advertising to someone else's.  Starting a newsletter is one
        way of building your own list; inviting your site visitors to
        leave their email address when they visit is another.
        Alternatively, you can buy advertising in someone else's
        newsletter or purchase an exclusive mailing (a newsletter
        publisher sends your ad to his or her subscribers in a
        separate mailing containing nothing but your ad).
         

        Be VERY wary of purchasing the so-called opt-in mailing
        lists that you will see on offer from time to time.  Fertile
        ground for scam artists, the modus operandi typically
        starts with an advertisement enticing you to send your
        message to 100,000 people, all of whom are just waiting
        with bated breath to receive your offer.  All you have to
        do is pay the owner of the list for access to the email
        addresses.  Because each of these 100,000 have
        "voluntarily" joined the list (hence the term "opt-in"), no-one
        can accuse you of spamming.  That's the theory.
         

        In truth, of course, there's nothing even remotely "opt in"
        about these lists and you will expose yourself to serious
        problems if you mail to many of the addresses in these lists.
        After all, would you make YOUR email address available to
        someone for the sole purpose of receiving advertising
        material?  I doubt it.  So why would 100,000 other people do it?
         

        If you do decide to develop your own mailing list, either
        via your newsletter or capturing the email addresses of your
        site visitors, keep a record of each subscriber's subscription
        email or form so that, if necessary, you can prove that the
        person signed up for your newsletter or voluntarily provided
        their email address at your site so you could contact them
        in the future.  This will go a long way to short-circuiting
        misguided spamming allegations.
         

        => Disclaimers
         

        If you provide information at your site, protect yourself
        from the consequences of a visitor suffering some sort of
        damage as a result of using the information you have
        provided.  The way to do this is with a disclaimer of
        liability.
         

        A disclaimer of liability in this context makes it clear to the
        site visitor (or newsletter subscriber) that although the
        information you are making available is provided in good
        faith and you believe it to be correct in all respects, you
        accept no responsibility for any errors or omissions
        contained (or not, as the case may be) in the information.
        Further, by availing him or herself of the information you are
        making available, the site visitor assumes all risk associated
        with the use or misuse of that information.
         

        The effect of such a disclaimer is that if you are sued for
        negligence, in addition to any other defences that may be
        open to you, you will be able to invoke the defence of
        assumption of risk.  In other words, your site visitor assumed
        all risk associated with the use or misuse of the information
        you have provided.
         

        In order to be effective, a disclaimer must be prominently
        displayed at your site so that the site visitor may reasonably
        be expected to have been aware of it.  It will be of absolutely
        no effect if the existence of a disclaimer can only be
        discovered in the fine print way down the bottom of the page.
        For an example of a simple, prominently displayed disclaimer,
        visit the AHBBO home page at http://www.shelteredturtle.com and
        click on "Legal Notice".  (In keeping with the present subject
        matter, if you decide to copy this wording (which you may),
        you assume all risk that the wording may prove to be
        ineffective.  ;-)  If you want more certainty as to the
        effectiveness of your disclaimer, consult your attorney.)
         

        The same principles apply for those of you publishing
        newsletters.
         

        => Insurance
         

        If available, take out public liability insurance to cover
        yourself against claims for negligence.
         

        => Defamation
         

        Do not publish anywhere on the internet (or anywhere
        else for that matter) material that is defamatory of another
        person or business.  The laws of defamation are not
        uniform throughout the world or even within countries in
        many cases so it is not possible to be overly specific about
        the do's and don'ts here.  As a general guide, though, material
        will be defamatory if it impugns a person's character and/or
        reputation and is untrue.  A good rule of thumb is "if in doubt,
        leave it out".
         

        These are just a select few obvious ways of minimizing
        legal liability in your online business.  It hopefully goes without
        saying that as a matter of course you conduct your business
        with the utmost integrity and ethical considerations.  This is
        the greatest protection your business can possibly have.  But
        sometimes, with all the best intentions, things can still go
        wrong.  We are, after all, only human.  But by continuing your
        good business practices and implementing some or all of
        the suggestions in this article, you will go a long way to
        protecting your livelihood from avoidable disaster.

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