A business owner's guide to avoiding website pitfalls

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Do you know if your company owns its domain name? Is your company’s domain name owned by your website developer? Do you have an agreement with your website developer assigning the right to the content on your site and the code to your business? Does your website contain photos taken by someone other than an employee? Do you have an agreement with the photographer to allow you to post the photos on your website?

If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, it may be time for a website audit. Websites can expose large and small business to many risks. These risks include legal risks such as consumer privacy and copyright infringement, as well as, business risks such as business interruption and loss of consumer goodwill. In order to manage these risks, consider the following as part of your website review.

Who owns your company's domain name?

It is not uncommon for a company to engage a website developer to assist it in creating its presence on the web. It is also not uncommon for a website developer to register the company’s domain name in its own name. This is dangerous for several reasons. If you do not own your domain name you will not be able to make changes to your domain name registration, renew your domain name or transfer it to another entity if you sell your business. In addition, the domain name could be used as leverage against you should your relationship with your website developer sour. It is imperative that you or your business be listed as the owner of the domain name associated with your website.

Does your company have a system for tracking the expiration and renewal of your domain name?

A domain name is typically registered for a term of one, two or three years. However, domain name registrars permit a domain name to be registered for longer terms such as 10 years. Failure to renew a domain name will inactivate your website and the domain name will become available for another to register and use. In order to avoid this result, you may consider extending the term of your domain name registration to the maximum term allowed by the registrar you are using and developing a system for tracking the expiration and renewal of your domain name.

Who is the administrative contact for your domain name, and do they still work for your company?

Keeping the administrative contact information current is critical to maintaining and updating your domain name. The administrative contact is the only person that the domain name registrar will communicate with and notify of an impending domain name expiration. As often happens, the person who is listed as the administrative contact may leave the company and the e-mail address associated with that person will be deactivated. For this reason, you might also consider using a general e-mail address such as domainname@companyname.com for the e-mail associated with the administrative contact to avoid missing important communications from your domain name registrar.

Do you know the user name and password associated with your domain name?

Each time a domain name is registered, the domain name registrar requires that a user name and password be assigned to that domain name. This information is the only way to access your domain name account and make changes to your domain name registration (including changes to the domain name owner, administrative contact and servers). In addition, a lost user name and password can result in unauthorized changes to your domain name registration. You should, therefore, treat your user name and password in the same manner as other important business information.

Have you registered other versions of your domain name to protect against cybersquatters?

You might consider registering common misspellings of your company’s domain name in order to prevent competitors and cyberpirates from registering and using similar domain names to divert consumers looking for your company to other locations on the Internet. Engaging in offensive domain name registration will save you money and headaches associated with trying to get these domain names back from a cybersquatter.

Do you have an agreement with your website developer?

Does this agreement grant you all rights in your website content and the code necessary to run it? It is imperative that you have an agreement with your website developer that grants your company all rights in your website and content. If such agreement is not in place, you may not be able to make modifications to your website or integrate your current website developer. Moreover, you may not be able to represent that you own the website and its contents in the sale of your business.

Do you have an agreement with your website hosting company?

Your website can only serve your business if it is up and running. A website hosting agreement should cover issues such as uptime, backup and disaster recovery in the event that your website content is lost or damaged. You should review your hosting agreement to ensure that these important items are covered.

Do you have agreements with your content providers?

If you purchase content – such as photographs and text – for inclusion in your marketing and materials or website without written terms and conditions, you may not be able to reuse the content in other media or another version of your website (or represent that you own the rights in the sale of your business). Purchasing a photograph for use in a marketing brochure does not necessarily mean that you have the right to post the picture on your website.

Are you using your trademarks properly?

Confirm that your trademarks are used correctly on your websites. Even the strongest and most well-known trademarks can become generic terms (like DRY ICE, ESCALATOR, NYLON and ASPIRIN) as a result of misuse by you or your customers.

Have you used the correct trademark notice?

Use of the symbol ® must only be used in connection with marks that have been registered with the United States Patent and Trademark office.

Do you have a website privacy policy, and is it clearly posted on your website?

Heightened concern about privacy of customer information on the Internet has lead to laws requiring certain businesses to clearly post privacy policies. In addition, some states, such as California, require all businesses that do business with residents of the state adhere to certain privacy rules and regulations. Websites that cater to children, especially those under the age of 13, have special privacy rules that must be followed. Know the laws and regulations pertaining to your industry and make sure that your privacy policy complies with these laws and regulations.

Do you have terms and conditions of use for your website, and are they easy to find and clearly written?

Your terms of use are important in that they outline the permitted uses of your website and its content. You should review these terms and condition to ensure that they are representative of your business objectives and are easily understood by your customers.

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