What Are the Pitfalls for Website Ownership

| General

What Are the Pitfalls for Website Ownership?

Modern consumers are subjected to adverts encouraging them to establish business websites. Nowadays it Is a wise investment for businesses to have a website. However, the majority do not seem to consider the legal implications of managing websites. One aspect is how much monitoring is required.

Do Website reviews need Moderation?

Contrary to popular belief it is not illegal for those running internet websites containing customer feedback to fail to control, moderate or monitor them. However, there are a few exceptions for example. Where published views and opinions could be perceived as ‘hate crimes. Lawyers should be advising commercial businesses to:

  • avoid accountability for third-party reviews
  • actively discouraging rule-breaches
  • communicating their disassociation with persons publishing comments; and
  • clarifying that the views being espoused are not representative of the:
  • business proprietor’s opinion
  • website owner’s view or
  • affiliates.

Breaking The Law, Breaking The Law…?

Clients should be advised of the risk of company websites being used to breach another party’s legal obligations. It is well established that companies have separate legal personalities and can be held liable for the felonies they are perceived as committing on the evidence. Similarly, if persons hold the office of company directors, they owe various legal duties and may be held responsible for the running of a website on behalf of the company. Sometimes, businesses may be held criminally liable for their actions if they procure breaches of the criminal law on their respective internet business platforms.

However, there is a higher probability of persons running these internet platforms to be facing action from law enforcement authorities about potential breaches of the criminal law involving:

  • encouraging others to commit criminal offenses
  • collaborating and conspiring with other persons in the commission of felonies and
  • assisting in activities that could on the evidence be interpreted to be criminal.

I Operate, Control, And Monitor a Business Website, How Can I Avoid Prosecution?

In-house lawyers and external advisors should be collaborating closely with key stakeholders within businesses’ commercial internet platforms to mitigate against the risk of being perceived as being active participants in criminal activity by:

  • regularly check the website for any complaints, take a genuine interest in the issues raised, and be aware of the problems
  • assess whether there is any evidence for the internet platform being perceived as facilitating unlawful activity
  • check the website to be aware of the content contained on it

Legal Issues to Consider:

Data Protection and Privacy

There are always data protection risks and lawyers should be working with data protection officers to ensure they have robust working practices, policies, and procedures in place for dealing with subject access requests. They also need to be advising clients to comply with the 72-hour notification obligation for notifying the ICO.

Defamation of Character

Lawyers should also be advising clients to put in place privacy notices specifying what is to happen if defamation claims are promulgated by comments on the website. It should be clarified how to notify a relevant person and a timetable followed for limiting liability.

Harassment

Harassment is a risk for website operators. Lawyers should be advising clients to collaborate with parties such as courts and other party legal representatives. They should also avoid being perceived as responding too slowly. To offer some security for business, owners should be keeping their internet platform terms and policies carefully formulated.

If they take the above action, they will be in the best state of preparedness should any problems arise about a website.

The Legists Content Team

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THE ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN USING THE FOLLOWING SOURCES

[1] Internet Law Centre – Moderating a review website - Moderating a review website (internetlawcentre.co.uk)

[2] The Bussey Law Firm and another v Page [2015] EWHC 563 - The Bussey Law Firm PC & Anor v Page [2015] EWHC 563 (QB) (06 March 2015) (bailii.org)

[3] University of Glasgow v The Economist (1997) EMLR 495

[4] OPO v MLA [2014] EWCA Civ 1277

[5] Ames v The Spammhaus Project Ltd [2015] EWHC 127

[6] Cairns v Modi [2013] 1 WLR 1015

[7] Ley v Hamilton (1935) 153 LT 284

[8] O’Kane, Olivia – Legal Issues Concerning Online Reviews – Carson McDowell – 28 September 2015 - Legal Issues Concerning Online Reviews - Insight Articles - News & Events - Carson McDowell (carson-mcdowell.com)

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